Compromise and Covid: Possible or Impossible?
By Katie MacDougall, LPC
On the heels of the dreaded 2020 holidays, the thought of seeing family again may be immediately anxiety-provoking. Under normal circumstances, deciding where to spend Christmas morning, what to buy your mother-in-law, and how to maintain healthy boundaries for your kids can be overwhelming around the holidays. This year, those decisions were magnified by differing opinions about how to handle a pandemic and Christmas. Like everything with the Coronavirus, there was no how-to guide. We were simply left with the tools we already had, creatively applying them to a time like no other. Now, entering a new year, many may wish they could avoid ever making decisions about family again.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I had a front-row seat to some of the most tricky decisions I have ever watched individuals, couples, and families make. The overwhelming theme I observed was an unwillingness to compromise. As I even write the word “compromise” in relation to Covid-19, some of you may be tempted to close your web browser. My immediate reaction would likely be, “What kind of opinion is this joker going to give now?” Or, “Thanks, but I know how I feel about Covid-19.” Your feelings about Covid-19 and how to handle this pandemic are valid. The purpose of this blog is not to persuade you to wear or not wear a mask or to get the vaccine or not get the vaccine. The sole purpose is to improve your relationships by learning what it really means to compromise.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of compromise is a “settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions.” When in a disagreement with someone, the thought of any sort of concession feels like a loss. That thought causes our defenses to go up. When it comes to a pandemic that has completely altered life as we know it, it makes perfect sense that our defenses would be raised at the thought of further concessions. It is important that we examine our responses to something so life-altering because all of us will face equally life-altering events again. No, they will likely not be on a global-scale, but our individual lives will certainly feel the weight of change again. Learning to compromise in these unsettling times is essential and possible. Dr. John Gottman describes emotional gridlock in relationships as unresolvable conflict; yet, he encourages the clinicians he trains to continue working with couples with such conflict because his research shows that “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.” As we explore ways to include compromise in gridlock, it is important to recognize these unresolvable conflicts are not synonymous with irreconcilable differences. Here are three key points about compromise that will hopefully drive your relationships out of relational gridlock.
First, Recognize Compromise as an Opportunity.
As I mentioned earlier, compromise is not a popular word. No one enjoys a concession. The problem in gridlock situations is we tend to equate all manner of concessions with a violation of our values. Now, there is a definition of compromise that does require a setting aside of a person’s values in order to attain a reasonable solution. As a woman of faith and a believer of absolute truth, I certainly agree that this kind of compromise must be avoided. The challenge in loving, safe relationships is recognizing that relational compromise does not always mean your values are compromised. More often, it is an opportunity to apply your core values to your most important relationships. Take a moment to apply this unpopular truth.
- Identify your three most important values. (For a list, check out Brené Brown’s list here.)
- Next, ask yourself, “Does making a concession grow or diminish this value?”
Here is an example of this kind of application in my own life. One of my top values is faith. Recently, I did not want to make a decision that I felt would negatively impact my personal comfort. I fought with God and the person at the other end of the decision about this concession extensively. I justified the decision because I did not want to let go of my pride, power, or comfort. However, when I finally assessed the situation based on the calling God has for my life and my own values, I realized this concession was an incredible opportunity to grow my faith. Without the conflict and need to compromise, I would not have taken the opportunity to release ideas and sins that kept me from growing one of my greatest values.
This, of course, is difficult to apply in a pandemic. You could make an argument that numerous values are represented on both sides of each issue. Instead of going into compromise like William Wallace in “Braveheart,” ready to fight to the death, try going into it like Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6). Although Jesus was omniscient, He was also called the Prince of Peace. He did not argue with everyone who was more ignorant than Him; otherwise, His entire ministry would have been spent in useless debates.
Second, Assess Your Own Heart and Needs in Gridlock.
The biggest issue fueling gridlock is sin. Romans 3:10 says, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one.’” In any argument, your heart can quickly lead you astray. To assess your own heart, start by recognizing you are not righteous and your “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9a). After recognizing the depravity of your own heart, it will be easier to see your own need for Jesus’ grace and mercy. Seeing your need for grace and mercy, it will be easier to see your loved one’s position in gridlock with empathy. Take time to really examine what might be causing them to take the stance they are taking and pray for God to help you see them through the eyes of Jesus.
Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.” Keep your partner’s newly-observed needs in mind as you examine your own needs. If you’re struggling with gridlock, you likely know deep down your needs matter. Strong emotions are likely signaling those unmet or invalidated needs. As someone made in the image of Christ, it is important to recognize, identify, and validate those needs. They do matter. It is possible that concessions require your needs be met differently than you would prefer, but it is important they are validated. Relationally, this may still require your concession, but you may need to ask your loved one to actively listen to you regarding the topic before closing the topic. If you or your loved one are struggling to actively listen without interruption, this may be a good opportunity to practice with a therapist. Your therapist will likely use a highly structured tool such as the Speaker-Listener Technique, which will give each person an opportunity to speak without interruption and listen without defensiveness.
Third, Practice Compromise Proactively.
If you have ever been around a toddler, you know compromise can be challenging at best. As they learn independence, “no” is often their favorite word and tantrums happen regularly. As adults, our brains are more developed, but our needs and selfish desires are similar. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Whether struggling with the gridlock of a toddler or an adult, iniquity and sin follow the patterns of our behavior. As we work to compromise with others, our awareness of our own unrighteousness and the unrighteousness of others grows. Because of this innate unrighteousness, it is crucial to practice compromise proactively. As Christians, avoiding any sin requires intentionality. If one of your 2021 resolutions is to avoid gossip, you would have to go into your normal gossip hubs with a plan. You might get an accountability partner in the work break room or pray before each Zoom meeting. Your success would be dependent on your plan and partnership with the Holy Spirit.
The Gottman Institute has a practical, researched-based tool to help this kind of proactive compromise. Start practicing compromise today, before Covid-19 attempts to steal your next relational victory.
To learn more about compromise or get help implementing some of the tools mentioned in this post, please contact our team of professional counselors today.
All Bible verses used are from the English Standard Version (ESV).