This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

How Much Should You Compromise In A Relationship?

Plus what to do if things feel unbalanced.
It's all about give and take.
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It's all about give and take.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship will tell you compromise is key. And if they don't, well, let's assume they a) are single or b) won't last in their relationship very long.

However, while a certain amount of compromise is healthy, if someone feels they are underappreciated or are thanklessly giving up things that are important to them, it can cause resentment, friction and ultimately could lead to a relationship's demise.

So how much compromise is healthy?

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"Compromise is absolutely key, I have to say, but of course it will vary from couple to couple," Matt Garrett from Relationships Australia told HuffPost Australia.

"It's such a fraught topic. Many couples, especially that we see here, really struggle with the idea of compromise, most often because it relates to issues of fairness.

"Fairness is closely linked to intimacy. How? Because in a compromised situation you are sending a partner a message of how much you are thinking of them in terms of putting their needs before yours.

"It taps into some very powerful forces between a couple. Fairness, equity... often you will have couples come to you with these little checklists, almost like scales weighing up how much I do for him and how much he does for me."

When you are talking to a couple about committing to a relationship, you are really asking the person to give up half of themselves.Matt Garrett, Relationships Australia

Garrett said often -- though not always -- this can be amplified if one individual works and the other doesn't.

"It is quite often represented if someone is staying home and doing all the housework, who may or may not feel as though their partner 'wants me to be at their beck and call' and has what they feel is the lion's share of domestic responsibilities," Garrett said.

"Conversely, the person who is out all day may feel they work hard to bring home the money, and then when they do arrive home they don't feel appreciated.

"The idea of compromise can be tangled up in those mundane and important issues that couples have to work out."

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It's also important to note what does and doesn't constitute healthy levels of give and take.

"If you are entering a relationship, I think you need to expect to compromise to some degree," Garrett said.

"But not to the point where you lose your dignity and self respect. There is a very sharp boundary about what you 'put up with' so if it's around safety, and someone's gambling or not allowing you a bank account or being controlling, we are not talking about that.

"Likewise if your partner is expecting you to do things in the bedroom you're not comfortable with. That is not 'compromise' and not what we are discussing today.

If you are going into a relationship expecting that you won't have to change... then I'm sorry, you are in for a rocky time.

"In terms of what is reasonable... interestingly when I first did my training I remember one of my tutors saying to me, 'When you are talking to a couple about committing to a relationship, you are really asking the person to give up half of themselves', which I think is a good rule of thumb.

"In order to make a relationship work, you do need to 'give up' a lot of your individuality to be a part of the couple. If you are going into a relationship expecting that you won't have to change and that the other person will have to fit around your routine or what you like or your preferences then I'm sorry, you are in for a rocky time."

For this reason, Garrett says it's important to set up boundaries and discuss expectations early on in the piece, rather than letting resentment build over time.

"So many people leave it way too long," he said. "When we see them in the counselling room the levels of resentment and unhappiness are quite high.

Have the discussion early on.
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Have the discussion early on.

"I know in the early stages of a relationship, you want things to be rosy and gentle. You're in the throes of lust and don't want to come across as critical or unappreciative. But if you don't have those discussions early on, it will come up later and often in an ugly way."

So what do you do if things have wandered off track?

"I think asking the question, 'Well, how did it get to this point?' is incredibly useful," Garrett said. "Often you'll find it's a series of events that have changed the circumstances of the couple over time.

"It's about saying, 'This is how we've started out and now with three children I can't maintain the home as well as a job as well as I used to, and I need more help.

"I really think finding out about the events which led to the dissatisfaction is very important. You can often quite accurately track where it started to fall away or change.

"One very classic example is people can get complacent and forget to let the other person know how they are feeling or their gratitude, or to express their admiration or love.

"A lot of it is about trying capture the essence of what brought them together in the first place.

"However I will say if it's getting to the point where a couple are disagreeing and aren't able to modify their own behaviour within the relationship, they need outside help."

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