"Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." – Janis Joplin
Janis's fierce dedication to herself is potent advice. And I can't think of anyone in need of such fierce dedication more than parents.
Speaking from my own personal experience and from the work I do with couples in my couple therapy practice, I can say that the struggle is real. It is so easy to compromise ourselves for our kids or our partners and convince ourselves we're sacrificing for a greater good.
Yet repeatedly doing this can create serious problems down the line.
We need to find another way of being in a relationship that does not involve abandoning our needs, wants or desires. Janis' wisdom points the way, but doesn't tell the full story. We need to find a way to do both: Tend to our needs, wants and desires and also tend to our partners.
So instead of agreeing to things that compromise yourself, I invite you and your partner to consider the idea of finding win-wins.
Simply put, win-wins are solutions where both people walk away happy.
It sounds so simple, but the act of negotiating a win-win is actually fairly complex. Each person is responsible for defining what they want in a particular situation or problem and then communicating that to their partner, while staying open to what their partner needs from the situation/problem.
It's a practice of caring for self and other at the same time. This requires flexibility, creativity, healthy entitlement and empathy.
Personally, I can relate to how hard it is to find win-wins. When my partner and I first became parents, we found ourselves in a lose-lose rut. I—like many moms—was operating with the idea that I needed to do it all. Those beliefs and behaviors were really hard on my husband and me. Luckily, we were able to identify what was happening and do something about it.
The trouble with repeatedly making compromises in relationships is that we remember those experiences as unjust, which can affect how we feel overall about a person or a relationship. It can lead to underlying feelings of unappreciation and defensiveness.
For parents, it is especially important to be able to act as a team and support each other through the slings, arrows, and tantrums of parenthood, but when one person or both people feel compromised and resentful, the ability to be team players is compromised.
Here's a quick way assess if you need to practice more win-wins in your relationship.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find yourself complaining about things you and your partner have agreed on to your friends, family or kids?
- Do you walk away from a fight feeling dissatisfied, disappointed or angry about how the conflict ended or what you two agreed to or upset that no agreements were made?
- Do you have a really hard time identifying your needs/wants/desires and/or asking for them?
If you or your partner answered "yes, more often than not" to any of these questions, then you two may benefit from practicing win-wins.
Here are the win-win fundamentals:
Accept that having needs, wants and desires is natural.
Many people, whether they are conscious about it or not, have discomfort about having needs, wants and desires. For these people—and that's most of us—it's going to be hard to identify needs and wants, ask for them, and claim them.
On the flipside, accept that your partner having needs, wants, and desires is natural as well. When we have a hard time accepting our own needs (i.e., our preferences and limitations as human beings), we will struggle to accept our partner's as well. When this is the case, partners will often see each other's needs as not important to the health of the relationship or as a roadblock to their own satisfaction. Both of your needs being met is incredibly important to the well-being of your partnership.
There are never only two options
When couples are engaged in finding a win-win but are only able to see two solutions, they are not actually engaged in a win-win yet. It's time to go back to the drawing table and for each partner to redefine what's important to him or her in this situation and what can be let go of or renegotiated.
Win-wins leave both partners feeling a sense of personal pride and also feeling closer to each other. This is a complex journey, but landing in a place where both people are satisfied can build confidence in self and the relationship.
Never underestimate the power of humor
Feelings can get tense during a negotiation with each other, so never miss an opportunity to laugh. Laughter, when it's used appropriately for tension relief and not to denigrate anyone, is such good medicine and can be a reminder that you both are on the same team.
Find a relaxing time to talk with each other about ways you can be friendly, laugh, and support each other during win-win discussions. That way you have another tool to use to reach a win-win.
When these win-win fundamentals are applied successfully, couples can end up feeling, paradoxically, closer and more separate. That is the beauty of win-wins: Couples become more confident as individuals and also feel more trust and a stronger sense of security together.
Like Janis's wisdom, it's a powerful practice to advocate for ourselves and our partners and to tackle this nonstop, wild journey of parenting as true partners.