ambersweet: Enter the secret garden of my heart... (Open the gate)
So you're in a relationship, and it's overall a pretty good one. You're happy most of the time, you get along fairly well, you have lots of things in common, you have fun together. Then you hit... well, at the time, it feels like a brick wall. Something where your approach to life or your emotional requirements are totally opposite. This is going to differ from relationship to relationship, but here's a few random examples:

- You don't want kids and your partner does

- You need space when you're angry and your partner needs to be cuddled and reassured

- You spend every $holiday with your family, it's a really big deal, and your partner wants the two of you to spend it with their family or alone.

What do you do?

There are three options, really: compromise, capitulation, or closure.


Compromise is the art of giving something up to get something you want. In order to achieve compromise, you both have to want to reach a solution that makes both people happy (or at least less unhappy). You both have to be willing to give things up. Compromise generally means that nobody gets exactly what they want, but it's close enough to be reasonable.

To approach a compromise, you can say things like, "I would like X to happen. I know you want something else, but this is very important to me. I'm willing to offer a concession of Y." Then your partner, ideally, would say something like, "I appreciate your willingness to compromise, and I understand that X is important to you. Y is a good concession. I would be willing to concede Z." Only less like they swallowed a textbook.

A compromise on the holiday issue, of course, would be spending this $holiday with your family, and next with theirs. We Americans are fortunate in that we have two major holidays within a couple of months of each other, so you could spend Thanksgiving with her family and Yule with yours, or Thanksgiving with your family and order Chinese on Christmas, or you could spend Christmas with your family and she could spend it with hers, and postpone the discussion for another year. OR if your partner wants to spend a holiday with "just you," you could pick another day to celebrate. I'm spending Christmas in Las Vegas with my mom, so [personal profile] finch and I are celebrating Epiphany this year.


Capitulation is, quite simply, letting one person's preference stand. This is not the recommended approach to negotiating a relationship in general, but if it's really important to your partner, and you're willing to give them what they want, you can occasionally do this. Just make sure that you're not the only one giving all the time.

Kids are a big issue to use as an example for this, but if it's a situation where your partner has dreamed about being a parent for their entire life, and you never really thought about having kids, but you don't hate the idea of it, then capitulation might be an acceptable thing to do. Within a capitulation, the person getting their way could offer concessions to make the victory less painful for the other person - for example, waiting to have children until you've finished school, or you've saved up a specific amount of money, or you've bought a house. However, make sure the concession isn't open-ended. When I was married, I did plan on having children, but he "wasn't ready yet." I said was willing to wait until he was ready - but that day never came. His unwillingness to put concrete limits on my concession was one of the things that doomed our relationship. So if you're waiting to finish school, make sure you stay on track to graduate! If you're saving money, make sure that savings plan is a priority (or you give each other a time limit). If you're buying a house first, decide when that's going to happen.

If you are capitulating, there are a few things that need to be handled to make sure it's a graceful "surrender." First of all, make sure that you're willing to do it. Don't capitulate because you're tired and you don't want to have this argument (again), if you're going to be resentful. When your toddler gets kicked out of preschool for fighting, you don't get to say, "Well, I never wanted to have kids in the first place!" With capitulation, you've forfeited the right to "I told you so." Second of all, if you're the one who is being capitulated to, be a gracious winner. Please save your victory dances for later, behind a closed door where your partner can't see them. Also, if your partner has capitulated to you, make sure you repay the favor next time. You can also be extra-nice to them! Take them out to dinner, buy them flowers (or a video game, or Belgian chocolate, or whatever); do the special little things that make them feel loved - make sure that they know how much you appreciate what they've done, and make the experience pleasant enough that they're willing to do it again.


You've hit that brick wall, and you can't capitulate and they won't compromise (or vice versa). You're standing on completely opposite sides of a gap that feels like it's the size of the Grand Canyon. Every time you have a fight, you have a secondary fight because you need space to calm down and think and they need to be comforted and reassured that you still love them. You've tried everything, and you can't reach a compromise and neither of you is willing to capitulate. Maybe you've even tried counseling, but it comes down to a basic truth: this problem just isn't going to get solved.

If you can't live with the problem, this is the point where you start figuring out the most efficient way to cut your losses, you divide things up with consideration and courtesy, and you go your separate ways. Because a major issue that can't be resolved is not going to magically go away, and it isn't going to fix itself. Changing the way you process an emotion is a long, difficult task, and so long as the coping mechanisms you've developed to handle your anger or distress aren't causing direct harm to yourself or others, then it's probably not going to change.

"But Amber," you protest, "this is the love of my life!"

No, it isn't. For one thing, there is no single "love of your life;" that's a myth perpetuated by the people who sell diamonds society. You're a whole person all by yourself, you don't need someone else to be happy. For another thing, if he were genuinely the love of your life (and vice versa), you'd be able to reach a compromise, because causing him distress would distress you enough to work through it (and again, vice versa). This is not to say that happy couples don't have disagreements, because they do. Happy couples fight, because resources are not infinite, and people don't always want exactly the same things. Miscommunications happen. Some couples enjoy shouting matches, or intense intellectual debates.

One of the communication problems I had with the ex would happen when I disagreed with her about some topic, and I would engage in what I considered to be a perfectly reasonable discussion about it, and she'd demand why I was fighting with her. Or being mean to her. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't doing either, and it always startled me when she described our discussion as a "fight." We would end up having a fight about whether we were fighting. The ways in which we communicated were not compatible. The only good solution was to end the relationship and look for closure. And now, armed with that experience and the resulting knowledge about myself, I know I need to be in a relationship with someone who won't mistake intellectual debate for emotional disagreement.

It's possible to have a functioning relationship with an unresolved difference, but not if it's a difference that you trip over regularly, and not if it's one you can't come to a compromise on. If your partner's religious and you're not, and you spend Sunday mornings in bed while he goes to church, that's a perfectly fine compromise - until he decides that it means that you're going to hell if you don't come too. A person who wants to be a parent and a person who's childfree can date, but they probably shouldn't get married. And a person who needs to hear about what they're partner is thinking all the time shouldn't date Squall Leonhart.
ambersweet: Enter the secret garden of my heart... (Open the gate)
I've talked previously about emotional honesty and overall compatibility, and those are the big things to have. If you can't get your needs met, you're in the wrong relationship, and admitting that is not a failure. Today, I'm going to talk about two of those (interrelated) needs, and ways they "should"* be met.

Boundaries. This is one of those things that's awkward to address in a relationship, because it does vary drastically from person to person, and it's easy for feelings to get hurt when boundaries are brought up. On the other hand, feelings also get hurt on a much more serious level when boundaries do get violated.

What I mean by "boundaries" is just the fact that you are an autonomous person and you deserve to be treated like one. This is directly connected to rights that you have, privileges that you grant, and the way you and the other person(s) in the relationship** negotiate both of these. Rights connected to your autonomy include the right to be treated like an individual person, not just like part of a couple; the right to decide what you do with your own time; and the right to have your thoughts and feelings listened to and respected.

What do these rights mean? For one thing, it means that you have the RIGHT to your own space. Ideally, it would be a room of your own. This isn't always possible, but the right to your autonomy means that you have the right to request and receive time to yourself. The right to your individuality and your own time means you get to decide who you want to spend time with, and how much, and for how long - which breaks down into the right to have your own friends that you can spend time with, rather than being attached at the hip to your partner all the time AND the right to say that you DON'T want to spend time with someone right now. The right to have your thoughts and feelings listened to includes the right to say that you don't want to talk about something right now, though your partner similarly has the right to say that they need to discuss it - this is where compromise comes in, and you collectively can work on finding a good time to discuss the topic in question in a way that makes both of you comfortable.

Then there are privileges. I sort of touched on this in passing, but rights are something intrinsic to you, what you have in your own autonomy, and privileges are things you give to someone else. Privileges are about sharing, and your rights essentially permit you to say what you share with whom, and how often, and for how long. Spending time with you, for example, is a privilege. Nowhere does any adult have the RIGHT to spend time with any other adult with whom they have a non-professional relationship. Now, if you're in a good relationship, you're delighted to bestow that privilege on your partner all the time maybe to the point where your other friends miss you. But she's got every right to spend time with her gamer group, and he's entitled to hang out with his book club, and anybody who won't respect that isn't good for you. Hearing your beloved's secret dreams is also a privilege - again, a privilege that someone in a happy relationship delights in sharing.

Respect. This is a big one, one of those things that disappears in a hurry in bad relationships, and is nowhere to be found in abusive ones. The reason boundaries aren't violated is out of respect. For me, respect is one of those things that keeps the relationship going when the euphoria of new love fades a little. Not only do I love [personal profile] finch to pieces, I respect his intelligence, autonomy, and competence - plus his opinions and his taste. Our tastes don't always overlap (I like Mexican food much more than he does; he likes movies where there are more explosions than characterization) but I respect the things he likes even if I don't like them myself and he is very patient with the fact that I find most of his favorite movies kind of boring.

Without boundaries, and the respect that honoring them represents, the relationship is unhealthy at least, and quite possibly abusive.

* "Should" is definitely a "your mileage may vary" kind of word. The only thing you SHOULD be getting out of a relationship is your needs met; anything else is me blathering. But these are ideas that, in my experience, are important factors in getting your needs met.

** A lot of what I'm talking about here can actually apply to any kind of relationship, not just romantic ones.
ambersweet: Enter the secret garden of my heart... (Open the gate)
I was leaving someone a comment-reply, and I went, this idea that I'm about to share is important, and more people need to hear it. So here we go.

This sort of goes with the 'breakups aren't failures' line of thought, in the category of Things I Have Learned From Bad Relationships. )
ambersweet: Enter the secret garden of my heart... (Open the gate)
Dan Savage talks from time to time about relationships ending, and how our society basically teaches that every relationship that doesn't last For The Rest Of Your Life is a failure. It's unreasonable in several ways, not the least of which is that not everyone is looking for that, all the time, and also because it gives you the feeling when you're walking away from a broken relationship that you've invested "all that time" in something "for nothing."

That's really not true. Sure, you didn't get Forever, but you got other things. You learned stuff, about yourself and about what you need in a partner. You had good times. You had bad times, hopefully different than the bad times you had with other people, because every relationship treats stress differently. (And also the same! Which is why there are relationship counselors and advice columns, because you can extrapolate a little bit from your own experience, and from other people's.) You got time (weeks, months, years) spent looking through someone else's eyes at the world.

So that's far from nothing.

I can't say that I got nothing out of eight years, because I met plenty of people who are still good friends that I wouldn't have if I weren't with her. (Number one on that list is obviously [personal profile] finch! But there are a lot of you hanging out here with me who are ALSO on that list.) I learned things about myself, about what I need in a relationship to be healthy and happy and sane. I learned what would happen to me if I didn't get those things, or I didn't get them regularly, or I didn't get enough of them. I discovered I was capable of all sorts of things, some of them very good. And maybe most importantly, I learned the value of a good relationship.

There was more, about power and control, and creating the thing you fear, and how being afraid of losing something (or someone) can cause you to act in a way that brings that very fear to reality, and some stuff about being the person you are, rather than the person you think your partner wants you to be (so when you stop and go back to being yourself, your partner turns to you and says You are not the person I fell in love with), but I can't make the words go together and I've been staring at this for several hours now. So I'll post it, and you can all talk about it in the comments.

April 2013

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