Being in a relationship requires compromise, but proceed with caution if you’re giving up your true self and acting like you’re married when you’re not.
Hope ― it becomes the brick and mortar for many relationships built on the underlying belief that if we move, convert, change our hair color, or start wearing cufflinks it will be the relationship’s lifeboat. Hillary Clinton followed Bill to Arkansas, hardly the epicenter of career opportunities for a Yale Law School graduate. Although everything more or less worked out for Hillary, these sacrifices can be made from a place of overvaluing the relationship, which leaves some tough questions unanswered and some unhappy living arrangements in sleepy towns.
Compromise in a relationship is inevitable. The two of you can’t live in a sanitized test tube where no one ever takes risks or puts themselves on the line. But what about people who are “just dating” and make life-shaping and life-changing decisions based on the other person? What regrets do people have when they sacrifice in a relationship? Do men and women view sacrifice and compromise differently? Here are some thoughts on the subject from my book, A Little Bit Married: How to Know When it’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door.
On the cautionary-tale front, Nitten started making some rather steep sacrifices for his live-in girlfriend. “I had enough money saved to keep me going for a year while I worked on my screenplay. My girlfriend, though, kept losing her job, and I ended up supporting us on my rainy day savings. I got very resentful.”
Chloe says she put her life and career plans on hold to help a long-term boyfriend, stating that, “I was always helping out my partner. I’d work an extra job so he could go and do what he needed.”
Similarly, Maya says her decision to move is tainted with a very palpable sense of regret. She left what she described as a “fabulous job” in Los Angeles to move to a city that she wasn’t crazy about to be with her unemployed boyfriend who, as she found out after she’d signed a lease and unpacked, wasn’t ready to commit to her.
Nitten, Chloe and Maya spotlight the “his” and “her” storyline when it comes to sacrificing.
Sarah Whitton, a psychologist and researcher at Boston University, found that men and women view it differently. “The gender differences are the big story here,” she says about the research she’s done on this topic. “The main thing our study shows is that women tend to act like they are married — making sacrifices like spending Christmas with their boyfriend’s family and moving across the country for someone who may not yet have fully committed to them.”
Whitton says that while women make these big sacrifices thinking that it means the relationship is headed toward marriage, men often don’t see it that way at all.
Putting her findings in broader gender terms, Whitton says, “Men need to see a clear future together in order to sacrifice for their partner, whereas women tend to base these big decisions about sacrifice on more subjective feelings of love and attachment. We know from psychological research that people attribute the same motivation to others that we have for ourselves.”
Translation: You’re taking religious conversion classes because you believe you two are in it for the long haul and you assume, because you think that way, so does he.
Deciding when, where, how, or if to make a significant lifestyle change or sacrifice in a relationship is a difficult and complicated decision. To avoid having an “Oh my gosh what I have done?” moment, think about what you’ll need from your partner in order to feel confident making whatever type of compromise is on the table.
Before you move across the country or give up a dream job, it’s imperative to communicate. Will you expect your partner to make a bigger commitment to you? Or will you be happy if the status quo remains “as is” after you move to Boise, Idaho?
Ask yourself some hard questions, and visualize and anticipate how you’ll feel if you turn down that software engineering job at Google or spend the next three years in Buffalo. Most importantly, get crystal-clear with your partner about what your compromises and your sacrifices will mean to the relationship.
Start a conversation about how you each view your career aspirations and goals. Is your significant other factoring you into his/her career plan?
Ask yourself if you are you making the decision out of fear you’ll lose the person. By the same token, ask yourself if you’re staying in a bad relationship just because you made a big sacrifice for him/her.
Create a baseline by asking yourself what is the largest career compromise you are willing to make for the other person. Is it taking a job at a second-tier law firm instead of a first-tier? Is it living in a city you aren’t crazy about? Is it taking a pay cut? Whatever it is, find that outer parameter.
Signs You May Be Compromising Too Much
- There’s a very noticeable inequality in how much each of you is compromising — you’ve moved three times and given up two jobs in order to be with him/her.
- You are considering moving to a city you really don’t like and it’s a desert of career options for your line of work.
- You are harboring resentments about all the accommodations you are making for her/him.
- You are making the compromise based on a fear factor — that if you don’t pull the vast majority of the weight, the relationship will end.
- You’ve significantly decreased your earning potential, or you’ve gone seriously off course from a career-track job that was your passion.
- You’ve given up financial independence and are now relying on your partner to pay the bills.