Compromise: The Dirty Word in Marriage and Politics


The truth about compromise is that it rarely works-in marriage or in politics. In my experience, a fair number of marital arguments reflect ABBA’s lyrics, “the winner takes it all, the loser standing small.” Compromise is only about ensuring that the winner is not the same each time.

Psychologists have long urged compromise in a marriage. Yet compromise involves “giving in,” or conceding and building the walls of a social structure, like marriage, with compromising elements doesn’t signal a strong foundation for happiness.

So also in politics. The recent stalemate in Congress was dissolved because of Obama’s lack of compromise.

Indeed, if you examine compromise, its meaning is often manipulated to signify something abhorrent when used in phrases such as “compromised integrity” or “a compromising situation.”

According to a poll by Global Strategy Group (GSG), 50% of all voters prefer politicians who refuse to compromise and 43% favor politicians who do. Jeff Pollock, head of GSG, explained the 7% gap: “… what should be concluded is that the word “compromise”-or “consensus”-amounts to capitulation in many peoples’ minds.”

To many voters, the opposite of compromise represents, “standing on principle,” an ideal that signifies value-preservation and leadership as opposed to buckling under pressure.

In October, in order to break the gridlock gripping the government, when Democrat Barbara Mikulski announced, “I am willing to negotiate. I am willing to compromise,” it seemed like she was being driven to a state of hopeless surrender. A place she’d rather not be.

Compromise, most often, leaves the compromisers with a residual feeling of loss. In the politics of my own marriage, success at the cost of my husband’s loss is utterly dissatisfying. How is one to enjoy the fruits of negotiation, when you know that someone you care for has been short-changed?

The reasons for the October government shutdown was indicative of how polarizing compromise is. The version of the Affordable Care Act being peddled at the moment is a derivative of compromise. Yet the Republicans want more.

The effrontery of compromise is that it works only if the other person or party is compromising. There’s no middle-ground to compromise.

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