What To Do When Compromise Is Off The Table

While it may be good advice for couples to compromise when they hit stumbling blocks, what happens when you hit a problem that can’t be solved with compromise?

by Jeffrey Levine

A client brought me this question when her and her husband disagreed about whether to inoculate their young son.

They didn’t agree. She wanted her baby to get the vaccine. Her husband didn’t.

There really isn’t a compromise in this situation.

Unfortunately, there’s going to be a “winner” and a “loser.” One person is going to have to give in.

While I don’t love the terms “winner” and “loser”, for the purpose of this post, it makes it easier to talk about.

I’m skipping over the part of the story where they had discussions, spoke with doctors and other experts, spoke with other parents, sent each other articles and videos and did their absolute best to educate themselves and each other.

Even after all that, they disagreed.

So, what then?

In this case, he gave in. And they vaccinated their son.

Yet, he still had very strong feelings about it, and couldn’t quite let it go. Yes, it was a done deal – but he had “lost”, and it felt bad. Not just the losing – but his fear around what it meant for his son.

She came to me for advice.

First, I reaffirmed that this was a very difficult decision and choice, and there were bound to be conflicting and confusing emotions no matter what was decided.

And now, she needs to guide the conversation with her husband in a different direction – the conversation was no longer about vaccinations, it was about their relationship. 

The question they both needed to focus on is “How are we going to navigate this situation in a loving and connected way?”

I reminded her that she was the “winner” – she got what she wanted.  And so the time for defending and explaining was over. 

Here are the steps I recommended:

 – 1. Hold space for his grief. 

Remember, he “lost.” And he has very strong feelings – of sadness, fear, disappointment, maybe some anger. The way to bridge the gap is for you to be willing to listen to him, to encourage him to express what’s going on for him. Reach out and be available to listen.

 – 2. Avoid reacting, explaining and defending. 

It’s very likely that he is going to need to express things that you don’t want to hear, or that trigger you in some way. You may feel the need to re-explain your reasoning or decision making. Don’t! This is not the time to re-ignite the discussion about vaccines. Don’t get pulled down the rabbit hole of debating again.

 – 3. Empathize with him.

Put yourself in his shoes. What if the decision had gone the other way? You are the “winner” and it is up to you to not only be a gracious winner, but to let him know that you respect his opinion and can truly relate to what he’s feeling. To empathize with him and show him you understand him does NOT mean you agree. So don’t hold back on the empathy.

 -4. Stay focused on healing the relationship.

It’s possible that he is going to want to keep arguing about vaccines. Or he may want to turn his anger toward you and how “you always get your way.” Or he may go silent. Don’t get pulled in those directions. Stay focused on your commitment to heal the rift and find a loving path to reconnect with him.

Remember, the focus after you’ve “won” is healing and connecting, not winning the argument again…and again… and again.

Jeffrey Levine is a corporate coach and trained mediator (and Rori Raye’s husband) who works with both men and women to improve their communication, deepen their connection and remove the blocks that keep them from feeling and expressing love. He is the author of “How To Talk To A Man”, which contains invaluable advice, tools and solutions to help you avoid common relationship pitfalls, and clean things up when they go south. “Every moment presents a new choice for you: a decision about what you want – and what you believe you deserve.” Follow him on Instagram (Click here!)

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