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Sacrifice, Compromise, Collaborate

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There are so many attitudes that sabotage relationships. Many of them come pre-installed long before the relationship sparks. Many of them, in fact, come from faulty advice given to us by well-meaning people (including, as it turns out, me).

I've heard all my life that relationships are hard work, for example. That love is a verb, that partnership is a challenge. It's all good advice on its surface, designed to let us know that abandoning a relationship at the first sign of trouble is not necessarily your highest course of action.

But in my experience, relationships are not hard work at all. They call for occasional bouts of heavy lifting, to be sure, but if you find yourself emotionally tired on the regular from being in a partnership, I believe you are not suited to each other and should diverge.

Aside: "Diverge" is a word I prefer to use in place of inflammatory language like 'split/break up'. For me, relationships do not end, and any transition in form is accomplished as gently as possible, out of continuing love and respect. That said, two people can mutually decide (key word: mutual) to embark on different paths in life. This should not invalidate their relationship in anyone's eyes, least of all their own.

But oh, you do get the advice. And along with the 'relationships are hard work' line, you're apt to hear one of two things: they involve sacrifice and/or compromise.

These two words positively infest relationship how-to books. And it starts right at the very beginning, in that we're told we're never going to find the perfect person for us, we're going to have to 'settle' (read: sacrifice and compromise). "There is no settling down without some settling for", says Dan Savage in a link I've shared before about "The Price Of Admission".

It's a great talk, with a whole lot of wisdom in it, and of course he's right in one sense: nobody's perfect. You're never going to find a single person who ticks every box, nor are you that person for others. That's a hellish expectation to place on someone or to try to live up to.

But listen to what Dan is actually saying just after talking about "settling for".

There is no long term relationship without not just "putting up with" your partner's flaws, but accepting them...and then pretending they aren't there". 

Once you fall in love -- real love, not the ersatz possessiveness and needs-fulfillment dance that most people call "love" -- there is no pretence.

That isn't to say that you regard your partner as perfect. Of course not. It's to say you recognize the perfection in their imperfections.

Often, those imperfections of theirs complement your own: he needs to need and I need to feel needed; she is a calm, cool pool of inner peace and I don't quite know what that is but I sure do have passion and energy; he's structured and disciplined and I'm anything but. You teach each other, you learn together, and your bond strengthens over time.

I contend that if you are sacrificing something, especially some part of yourself, to a relationship... you have a problem. A sacrifice is, by definition, "You win and I lose".  Is losing really how you want to experience a growing-closer?

Compromise isn't much better. Compromise is we both lose. Maybe not much, but we both lose something. Sometimes that's the best you can do, but the linked article above is right: it should NEVER be the starting point of a negotiation, let alone the end GOAL of one.

So if not sacrifice and not compromise, what's left?


Collaboration is we both WIN. Collaboration is working together to build something: something enduring, something miraculous, something called love, expressed. Collaboration, not to sound too corny, is how you save the world.

Collaboration does sometimes involve both sacrifice (ideally collective, not individual) and compromise. And when it does, it's that larger collaborative picture that should be focused on: any thoughts of sacrifice or compromise should be immediately reframed. "Yes, we are living on a tight budget now so that we can take that vacation we both want next year."

That said, if you find that you're  rowing in two different directions, you're never going to get anywhere further. AND THAT'S OKAY.

Society says that's awful. Society says that shouldn't happen: you should share the same dreams and desires and when you don't, one of you has to forget yours for the sake of the relationship.


The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. --Franklin Veaux

The solution in such a case is to diverge. Which means, to recognize, cherish, celebrate, all that you have built together to this point AND TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER AS BEST YOU CAN AS YOU GO ON TO BUILD ANEW. You made a commitment to a person. Keep it. 

(You thought you made a commitment to a marriage, didn't you? Look closely at your vows and note you made them to each other. THE PERSON IN THE RELATIONSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE RELATIONSHIP.)

I'd hazard a guess people find this particular thought of mine to be even odder than my polyamory. Given the way 'divergence' USUALLY plays out, they'd be right. I've seen it time and time and time again. Hatred where love once was and still should be. Complete withdrawal of self from a relationship. Collateral damage to children, friends, other family. Court battles. NONE OF THIS SHOULD BE NECESSARY.

Now, I should hasten to tell you that nobody ought to go into a relationship thinking about divergence. Prenuptial agreements disturb me: I'm sure the people signing them think they're being pragmatic, but what they are really doing is putting the divorce before the marriage. How that's healthy I have no idea. No. You've got something to build. Build it. Together. Just remember you're not building a jail.


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