Lessons Learned: The Power of Compromise

I'm penning today's Lessons Learned essay in honor of Jon and my anniversary:

Fourteen years ago today Jon and I got married. I have learned so much about myself and how to be in a partnership during these 14 years, but it wasn’t until last year that I learned about the power of compromise. I’m almost a little embarrassed to write that, but it’s true and I feel that the story of this revelation is worth sharing because compromise is a crucial part of making a marriage work. And I know lots of couples who struggle with it.

I’ll back up and be plain and say that traditionally, I’ve not been the best at compromising. I mean, I think in the past I have felt as if I have been compromising, but in reality, I haven’t. Or at least not where it’s mattered most. I imagine this is rooted in how powerless I felt during the stressful events of my childhood, as well as the hard headed aspects of my personality.

Anyway, my current profession has brought many gifts and opportunities, but one of the related tradeoffs is travel. In 2012, everything in my life was stretching my time (and the residual demands on Jon’s time) to the max: in addition to my general palette of writing, consulting, and design work, Violet was just a baby, I was writing a book, and my travel was at an all time high; notably, there was a 6-week stretch where I was in California, Las Vegas, and Ethiopia (for 10 days). My last day in Ethiopia, I had a complete meltdown during breakfast; I was scared to return home because I knew there would be tension and unhappiness.

I always thought it was stressful for me to put each travel opportunity in front of Jon because I knew it would lead to a stressful conversation. Looking back, the way it usually played out was that I would position each trip as imperative (sometimes it was, if I was working for a client but sometimes -- I now realize -- it wasn’t...it just felt imperative to me), Jon would push back, and I would lock up and freeze (my typical response to stress) until I got a green light. I often would counter with, “But I have said no to x, y, and z” but I now realize that those weren’t really compromising points because I’ve actually become really good at saying no to things that I don’t want to do. It’s saying no and compromising around the things I do want to do that have been the issue.

As a result of the toll that my 2012 travel took on my family, in 2013 I reigned things way in, only traveling when truly essential (e.g., client work) or for very select advisory type work (e.g., ONE Moms). The stressful fog happily started to lift just as the offer to speak in New York at a high profile event was offered to me.

My brain immediately jumped into “how can I make this work?” mode. The reality was that I was already feeling pretty maxed out with client work but I figured I could do a quick overnight to New York. I could feel the stress and anticipation welling up as I looked at the calendar and realized that the trip would immediately precede Jon’s first university teaching engagement. I think part of me knew I needed to let this opportunity go, but I brought it to Jon anyway. It was a difficult conversation and we basically left things at a standstill.

I decided to call Asha (ever a source of wisdom for me) and during our conversation she said something that finally penetrated. It was something along the lines of, “I know this is a hard decision, but the sadness you will feel about not going will be so trivial compared to the hit your marriage will take if you do go. You have shown time and again that there will always be more opportunities...let this one go.”

And with those seemingly simple words, I finally realized how little I had been compromising. I realized that while yes, part of me did feel as if I was letting something big slip away, I wanted to compromise. I wanted to support Jon’s new journey as a professor and have his back if he needed help to get ready for his class. I wanted Jon to know we were a team.

When Jon and I sat down again to discuss the New York trip, it was a turning point for me and for us. I think I probably shocked him by saying that I wanted to let this opportunity go and play a supporting role to his work that week. And you know what? It felt damned good. It changed the way I have handled every opportunity moving forward and it changed how we talk about travel and events. The stress and angst that typically clouded our conversations is now gone. Because we’re truly having a two-way conversation, and making decisions together as a couple.

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Happy anniversary Jon; thank you for being my beloved partner in this journey. I'm so grateful for you every day.

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Image credit: Christine Koh