Compromise and  Settling! Am I settling or doing a compromise?

This is a question I hear a lot from my counseling and coaching clients because they want to know that what they want to know the difference between settling and compromise.


In a relationship is when you betray yourself or you allow others to betray who you are or your core beliefs, such as honesty, respect, reciprocity and commitment. When you have settled, you feel invisible, like you don’t matter. “Stuck” is usually the word that clients say when they have settled in a relationship. They feel stuck because they haven’t used their voice in so long that they fear their partner will leave if they don’t compromise. So they are stuck between choosing themselves or choosing their relationship, and this should never be a decision you have to make in a relationship.

That’s because, in a healthy relationship, you never have to choose. You can have both.

So settling is an internal battle. On the other hand, compromise is external.


Is when you model the true give-and-take flow in a relationship, allowing the relationship to expand and grow. This means at some point you may have to give more than your partner, and vice versa. Because it flows and there is reciprocity, you do not feel like you are sacrificing. You know you may give more this time but your partner is willing to give and has given more in the past. You trust that your partner is invested in the relationship, which builds a foundation on we instead of I. You feel understood and that you are on the same team as your partner.

You feel confident in yourself and in your relationship.

For example, you or your partner may compromise on where you will spend the holidays (with your family or theirs), what daycare the children go to, how much money to save, where you will buy your home, who does the cooking/home chores, etc.

When you compromise, you and your partner look at both of your external preferences and then thoughtfully, selflessly analyze what would work best for the relationship and for the family. Sometimes it’s what you want and sometimes it’s what your partner wants — and sometimes it is an integration of both.

And I say selfless for a reason. Sometimes people mistake sacrifice for compromise, and sacrifice is not selfless.

I hear this phrase a lot: “I sacrificed for you.” But what does this actually mean?

As I explain to my clients, if you have to say, “Well, I sacrificed this for you,” then the intent is not pure. Sacrifice in a relationship means, “I gave this up to make you happy.” As I heard author Marianne Williamson say once about sacrifice in relationships, “But who asked you to?” Who asked you to sacrifice anything to make anyone happy … and then throw it back at them to show how much you love them … to prove why they should do the same for you.

Can you tell I get all riled up when I talk about sacrifice? Is It is Compromise or Settling?

I know what you are saying right now, “Suntia, what is wrong with me doing something nice for my boyfriend in hopes that he will do the same for me? If I scratch his back, he scratches mine, right?” Well, here is the problem with that train of thought:

If sacrifice is the foundation on which you build your relationship, then you will expect the same to be done for you. Which ultimately makes you feel like the victim or the martyr. Sacrifice is where contempt grows in a relationship. You gave of yourself. You pretended it was selfless, but inside, you were expecting something in return… and you didn’t get it. That’s when you start to hold it against your partner, and you let that anger fester and breed. You secretly wait for your partner to sacrifice for you, and when they don’t, the contempt grows. You are angry, annoyed and bitter, and your partner has no idea.

They don’t understand your sarcasm, hurtful jokes, passive-aggressiveness and demeaning comments.

This feeling of sacrifice breeds contempt, and contempt is dangerous. Dr. John Gottman, a famed relationship psychological researcher and clinician, considers contempt the most destructive negative behavior in relationships. Contempt is pure meanness: eye-rolling, mimicking, mean jokes and so on. It is communicating in a way that says, “I am better than you.” It’s communicating with disgust and a lack of respect.

When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities, at least while you’re feeling upset,” Gottman writes in his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. “You can’t remember a single positive quality or act. This immediate decay of admiration is an important reason why contempt ought to be banned from marital interactions.”


So you see why sacrifice has no place in a relationship: It’s a slippery slope to something dark and ugly and painful.

Compromise, on the other hand, means you will not always get what you want, but there is a clear discussion about the options and how you feel about the options. Together, you come to the decision of what is best.

And because there is a flow of reciprocity through compromise, you feel seen, heard and understood. When you sacrifice, you feel angry about it and you hold it against your partner.

Look at it like this: Settling and sacrifice are frenemies. On the outside, it appears that you are being supportive, but on the inside, these moments of “giving in” are breaking you down.

And then this: Compromise and communication are BFFs. Yes, they have different viewpoints and priorities, but at the end of the day, sometimes after hashing it out, they make a decision that they both can be proud of. Why? Because they know their BFF wants the best for them.

Compromise is hard, and it’s something that many couples and singles struggle with. That’s because sometimes the line is so thin between giving and giving too much. You may feel like you have had past breakups and always left feeling like you lost yourself in the relationship, or you may be in a relationship and feel like you are always the one giving in or compromising.

If you feel like you are giving in too much, this is not your partner’s problem. This is your problem. Because somewhere along the way you decided it was easier to just go along with your partner than express your viewpoint. You decided your voice was not worth the arguments, so you started what I like to call “the silent dialogue,” which means you speak your truth but not to your partner. You talk to yourself (or think to yourself) or to your friends and family.

When I work with couples, I let them know that silence is the fastest way to create a gap within your relationship. Because your partner has no clue how you really feel while you are building contempt for not being heard. Once all that contempt comes to the surface, the damage is already done. You’ve created a void in your relationship so big that it becomes a challenge to reconnect and to refill that void.

I guess you can say that the silent dialogue is the silent killer of relationships. You don’t know what’s happening until everything explodes.

Here’s the bottom line: A healthy relationship is built upon true expression of feelings, not an avoidance of them.

Before you start stressing about your personal challenges with compromise and settling, I want you to know that sacrifice in relationships is fixable. It’s through more communication and more compromise. Every decision in your household is an opportunity for you to have a voice and for you to show off your compromise skills.

First off, don’t try to tackle a difficult, compromise-worthy discussion in the middle of the early morning breakfast-in-hand, where-are-my-shoes, no-you-can’t-watch-cartoons chaos. Getting the kids to school and the adults to work successfully is a feat in and of itself, so let’s not add to the complications. You need time to think about the full picture and thoughtfully come to the table with your partner.

And here’s the disclaimer: It may take more than one conversation. Take time to think about what you want, why and how you feel it will be the best option for the relationship. Schedule a time to talk about it. If Sunday evenings are best, then you put it on the calendar to talk about it. I know it sounds so methodical, but it works! Why? Because it takes away the anxiety, which sometimes can turn to anger during difficult conversations. And it allows each of you to take your time expressing yourself.

The don’ts for the conversation: Don’t rush, don’t cut each other off, don’t roll your eyes and don’t bring your cellphone.

If you do not think your partner will compromise with you and/or it would be impossible to stand up for yourself, then you have to look inside and ask yourself why you are settling for a relationship that doesn’t value you. Is it fear? Is it past trauma? Is it self sabotage?

Or do you need support understanding that you are worth a loving relationship where compromising and working together is a priority?

This is where counseling can help — because before you can ask your partner to change, you have to be clear of who you are and what you want. And you have to have the courage to stand in your truth. That’s because if you have not worked through your inner challenges, your partner’s resistance could weaken your voice even more.

Gandhi says, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” And I say that you must be the change you wish to see in your partner.

If you need professional expertise to help you find your voice and create a relationship that has a foundation of communication and compromise, I offer sessions that are a judgment-free zone where you can talk about your relationship with your partner and yourself. If you would like to book an in-office or virtual appointment with me go here .