Sacrifice and Compromise in Marriage and Other Relationships

In any mutually agreed upon relationship, do the members lose individuality and freedom because of the necessity to compromise and sacrifice some aspect of themselves for the sake of the survival of the new relationship? Committing one’s self to another partner requires that the lifestyles of each must be able to blend in such a way that neither partner feels the other one has invaded personal space reserved for the individual self. The younger the individuals the easier it will be for them to be willing to adapt to fit into the new mold. Older partners bring together their own established isms which may be difficult to modify or eradicate altogether. Those even older, the seniors on their last voyage, take on issues of their own including physical limitations,

medical issues, established attitudes anchored onto immutable behaviors, and beliefs so deeply entrenched in mind and body that acceptance or rejection, in either case, could result in a no-brainer, non-deal, relationship-breaker.

Sacrifice is really a misnomer for what really happens when individuals decide to make a serious go of creating a unified relationship. The temptation to call giving up something of the self for the sake of survival of the coexistence of both is not really sacrifice in the true denotation of the term. There is no ritualistic, holy event – no confirmation, no circumcision, no Bar (Bat) Mitzvah – to make the truly compromising event a sacrifice. There is no blood-bath hecatomb. What those who pleadingly refer to their doting actions as sacrifices really mean is that they have compromised something in the totality of their composite freedoms for the sake of avoiding confrontation, disagreement, or contentious rebuttal to explain their actions, desires, or acquired ideologies. However, with English being a living language, words take on meanings of their own or acquire shades of meaning from other words that do not sound as daunting. Hence, sacrifice has taken on a new meaning: to give up something important or valued for the sake of other considerations. Ultimately, this new definition is nothing more than the one already established for the word compromise.

How does compromise fit when individuals, who are inherently different, decide they are attracted to each other and want to spend their lives together whether it may be a life-long commitment till death do us part or if it is a renewable contract with options for variable terms? It is certainly not the discussion for the first date. That prime-time event is reserved for determining how to deal with the temptations of a raging, starving libido, general likes and dislikes, social expectations and behaviors, and time for discussion of inbred attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and any and all of those very specific isms that form the persona as well as the personality of each one.

The Young and the Restless

Young people must first overcome the reckless abandonment of morals when they subject themselves to their libidinous drives that hurl all precautions to the wind in order to achieve that all-elusive climactic event, the orgasm. There is still the stark fear of impregnation or acquisition of an STD, but the desire for that momentary, blissful, memorable occasion is insuperable. These wayward youth are not satisfied with mere singular events. They hunger for the full buffet of experiences and experiment with multiple variations in attempts to effect ultimate satisfaction in as many positions and venues as they care to imagine. Only the strictest of inhibitions limit the range of possibilities.

The inexperience and curiosity of wayward youth belie any thought of sacrifice (in the second meaning of the term) or compromise in any obvious form. Each wants the full gamut of whatever there is to experience no matter the cost. The dedication of emotions to one is as ephemeral as the wisp of smoke from candles burning at either or both ends. Not only are compromises the least of concerns but so also are the empty promises uttered during the wanton throes of emotionally charged sexual exploitation. The male will promise anything for his moment of gratification, and she will offer anything to grasp that moment of feeling important enough to have control over her elusive prey. Values change by the moment and last as fleetingly as the heat of lightning bolts through their all-embracing, ubiquitous vacuums. Both promises and offers are quickly forgotten once the high of the achieved orgasm subsides.

This youthful period is known for its variations and willingness for each to tolerate novel ideas from the other, but it also tests to what extent each will go to express limitations and boundaries from the other. It is the time when delving into unchartered territory may open up new avenues of what is acceptable and what is not. It is at this time that the toleration of specific actions will be part of the regimen or not. It is the time when preferred positions and actions that have deemed universally acceptable in general are acceptable in this specific situation. It defines what is good and that which is absolutely taboo for whatever reasons, rational or not.

New faces, new bodies, new desires all contribute to a plethora of social interactions some of which end before they become emotional entanglements with sexual implications and physical complications. He feels the excitation and elation of having acquired a new conquest while she may feel conflicted for having given in to the wily whims of his whispered promises and her own admission of having used herself as bait to capture a free spirit unwilling to be caught, labeled, and removed from active circulation. Rings and things become loose bonds that are so easily broken their existence is considered to be expendable costs of doing business. Hearts are broken and mended with miraculous rapidity and uncountable frequency. Emotional hurts are healed with Band-Aids of subsequent encounters with no need for sacrifice or compromise anywhere on the horizon. Such is the life of the young adult in search of his/her soul mate. Life experiences cause potential partners to bounce around venues and relationships like balls in a pinball machine without a tilt penalty in search for the perfect mate.

During this capricious period, spontaneity is prevalent. Differences in religion, politics, and socio-economic status take a back seat to physical attraction and emotional investment. Nothing more than the physical interaction seems to matter so long as time, place, and availability are so readily accessible. The energy level seems infinite as the novelty of experimenting with daring positions and highly-imaginative machinations create neurologic responses rivaled only by those artificial ones made manifest through external forces like alcohol or drugs. However, there lurks in the shadows one caveat: those differences that did not matter then may indeed matter now. When one of the two wishes to try other greener fields in different pastures, suddenly differences come to light and religion matters; political affiliation matters; and socio-economic status is now a deal-breaker. The fickleness of youth is still more dominant than any perceived need for sacrifice or compromise.

Attempts to permanentize relationships merely with the rhetoric of ritualistic promises radically falls short of the anticipated expectations because – well, — that is the nature of the young beast. Words are mere changeable entities that have no soul, no conscience, and little enforceable meaning. When each of the partners takes that lifelong oath to endure the uncertainties that may befall them, how quickly are minds changed upon the encounter of the first controversial incident. Grass suddenly looks greener on the other side, as the cliché suggests, and that holiest of vows to overcome adversity is the first victim of human nature, the inherent desire not to compromise when benefits are not skewed in the direction of the promisor, or the promisee, for that matter.

Infatuation and other crazes should not be mistaken for the real sense of devotion that is far from instantaneous, even under the most favorable conditions. It does happen, but more often than not, it takes effort by two individuals to decide to commit the uncertainty of their lives to a single goal, a lifetime toleration of each other’s differences so they meld into a self-sufficient unit of peaceful coexistence. Differences can complement what each one lacks, but they can also cause a rasping friction that eventually undermines the foundation of the relationship. During this youthful interlude between childhood and adulthood, so much can be learned about each other’s likes and dislikes, learned behaviors, hopes and natural fears or phobias, acquired preferences, and ideological tendencies. This is a time for careful consideration of what each one is willing and able to add to the union and what each one is willing to compromise where inequalities exist. There is time to consider all aspects of future possibilities, notwithstanding the uncertainty of life expectancy. This is the time to communicate interests and even fantastic desires so shock value at some undetermined date is diminished. This is the time to reveal some of those known isms, like eating habits, phobias, or idiosyncratic rituals. After the fact is not the time for revealing deal-breaking issues.

The Bold and the Beautiful

The nomadic middle-agers tend to carry more baggage because of their own personal experiences, acquired likes and phobias, social entanglements with current or past relationships, desire or lack of such for children, and the circumstances each one bears as an established individual with a formative past. Personal preferences with regard to religion, politics, personal behaviors and expectations are molded by life-styles, environment, and specific tastes. This may, indeed, be the most flexible and volatile group with the largest age span. It is the group that requires the most compromise because so many variables come into constant play as the individuals bounce from partner to partner and back again. It is likewise the group that may be most resistant to compromise because each one of the partnership believes his or her life is the most important and most deserving of change – compromise — in the other for the sake of the happiness and satisfaction of the self.

By this time, many partners have established likes and dislikes, patterns of behavior, expectations of specific roles to be played, and tolerances for individual differences. Some have been married and divorced, in and out of partnered relationships, still married and looking, or fearful of any commitment and broaching the thresholds of what they will and will not commit to as a meaningful relationship, again. Some have children, legitimate or not, and some do not want any, legitimate or otherwise. Some are exceedingly successful in their professional endeavors while others wallow in the dire muck of their own perceived ineptitude. The issues that cause the failed or uncertain relationships may derive from the unwillingness to effect any form of compromise or any sense of sacrifice for the better good of either partner. Why? Reasons vary by each of the individuals. Many are obvious; some are based on unforeseen circumstances based on sociological or environmental influences; a few are surprises having erupted from unexpected sources; but none are unaddressable. There is nothing that cannot be dealt with rationally if there is the desire to modify behaviors and expectations.

Personal perception of reality issues — individual expectations– is one possibility for anyone’s unwillingness to compromise. A lack of willingness by either one to commit to uncertainty also looms large. What uncertainty? When there is doubt about the depth of feelings of one partner for the other, when the future of being still together through positive and negatives times is questionable, when the aura of mystery no longer matters, that is when it is clear that the future of the relationship is doomed. This applies whether the partnership is casual as in cohabiting partners or if it is a more permanent relationship sealed by the promises in marital vows. Mutual expectations should be meaningful and sincere. Honesty about feelings, desires, hopes, fantasies, and – yes, — even dreams should be expected and delivered. One cannot fulfill a dream or a fantasy of the partner if it is kept a secret from the partner. Why hesitate to share? Perhaps fear of rejection, expectancy of flat-out refusal, or a philosophical resistance by the partner to comply with the desired fulfillment of the dream or fantasy is at the core of the matter. The resultant silence and withdrawal lead to disenchantment, bitter disappointment, and sullen disillusionment.

What other differences might affect the willingness to commit to a permanent bond? Perhaps irreconcilable differences whose basis lies with religious, political or personal biases stand as a staunch barrier. Perhaps it is a composite of insignificant differences, like personal hygiene habits, eating preferences, attitudes towards controversial issues to which one or the other has strong feelings or affiliation, sleep circumstances like apnea, snoring, or something as trifling as to which side of the bed to sleep on and with or without lights. Perhaps one is a night person while the other is a morning person whose day without coffee would liken him or her to a Tasmanian devil. Perhaps, when one is inexplicably offended with or without intent, the offender is shut out and left wondering about the causes of the behavioral changes.

If these conditions should come to light before any permanent commitment is made through marriage or partnership agreement, then that might be grounds enough for dissolution of any idea of the permanence for any future agreement to be made. How much time should it take to find out the potential for underlying issues? Time is still not a pervasive limitation, but it is not a non-factor. Youthful ebullience might be a thing of the past, but responsibilities remain a part of the constitution of the now supposedly fully developed individual, mentally and physically. The choice of profession should have led one onto a path, though winding through mysterious venues, that leads to a foreseeable conclusion, a hopefully sustainable retirement. Again, what might some contentious issues be?

One may like deafening barrages of classical strains reverberating throughout a house as if I were a symphony hall while the other relishes the blessings of silence with no more than the natural echoes of bird songs, rustling zephyrs, and gentle mists laying their soundless moisture on the universe in a blanket of unfettered beauty. One may cherish the interaction of the individual self with a universe of different people, their facts and foibles, their unique ideologies, beliefs, and fantasies while the other shuns any involvement with those outside the immediate realm of family or chosen friends as if those interlopers were the source of a contagion of a societal plague. Perhaps one thrives only on facts while the other explores the limitless galaxy of opinions. One may like travel all over the world while the other prefers to stay within limited boundaries and shuns any excursion beyond the front porch. One likes to go out to dine, see shows, cavort on the beach, mingle at malls, saturate oneself with sports events from single, specific teams to an Olympiad of choices; the other hates eating out, cannot or will not sit through a movie or any show, despises sandy beaches, shuns all malls for every reason, and follows an occasional sport with limited interest. Is there a possibility that compromise can effect a resolution so that both are satisfied with the determination? That might be a herculean task, but it could be done if each side had sufficient leeway to offer anything, ceding something in return for something else of equal or greater value.

When there are children or pets involved, compromise becomes much more of a challenge and leverage is sometimes placed unfairly where it intends to hurt or punish one or the other rather than create a solution. Everyone suffers then. Compromise here is vital when a commitment is already made through marriage or living arrangement agreement. Without ceding something of value to one for the benefit of the union would result in eventual dissolution of that union, whatever it may have been. Generally speaking, doing things together, sharing events together, and communicating effectively about contentious issues with a resolution in mind can effectively and even effortlessly allow satisfactory compromise to seamlessly take place.

General Hospital or One [Last] Life to Live

The oldest group, the affectionate geriatrics, probably has the greatest need for compromise because so much of life has already ingrained in them habits and behaviors that may seem totally immutable to one another. Each one has his perceived world of what is important, each sphere of influence, and each universe of all that has happened with mementos of life spent, enjoyed, or endured. Each one may have developed an impenetrable atmosphere of behaviors and expectations that will not allow an open-door policy of experimentation with new policies. This resistance is not always verbalized, but it is often expected to be understood and absorbed by the other as if through a form of osmosis. Adverse reactions often result with periods of silence or non-communication touched by periods of awkward discomfort from lack of effective communication. The expectation that one should have understood the not-so-obvious signals becomes a bone of contention that leaves a sour taste in mouths that have already made unsavory innuendoes. Expectations that one should know what is on the mind of the other often leads to negative reactions that in themselves deteriorate the foundation of an already unstable relationship.

It is not truly the end of the line for these senior proponents of sharing these final years in some sort of happy union. Time is of the essence now. The last stop is in view but weary legs, aching bones, myopic vision, deafened ears, and senseless neuropathy renders that destination doubtful. Holding hands, a youthful sign of belonging, is now a manual anchor to prevent falls or stop one or the other from wandering aimlessly to nowhere in particular, and approaching that final destination becomes a virtual odyssey of missteps and misadventures. Where is there room for compromise under these circumstances? Old dogs prefer not to learn new tricks. Even if they could, successful achievement is doubtful. Each senior brings a lifetime of accrued successes and failures though remembering them might be more of a challenge. Repeating them as re-enactments often fails as mind and body cannot get together to successfully create the re-run.

What compromises can be offered to make these relationships reach the depot of delight more palatable? Again, honest and direct communication is imperative. Lay it all out there before commitments are made. Each should be made aware of real issues and not fall for promises that are impossible to keep. Physical ailments, — contrived or real, actual or denied, temporary or permanent – should all be a part of the equation. Each should be realistically aware of how much time and effort it will take to reach that not-so-distant platform ominously looming like a formidable storm cloud. The ride is already treacherous enough.

Sometimes the young at heart in an aged body tries to make it work with a young at heart in a younger but woefully battered body. It may take the Wisdom of Solomon and the Patience of Job to find a resolution to that scenario. But, it is possible. Not only is effective communication essential but also toleration for the unusual and unforeseen events that would in earlier years be mere nuisances. Now, they may appear to be cataclysmic. That unintentionally teaspoon-sized pile of spilled sugar may seem more like an avalanche, and clothes in the wrong part of the partitioned hamper may seem to be an attempt to gaslight the unsuspecting partner. Not hearing whispered notes of loving coos might be interpreted as careless indifference when it is truly dire deafness. The lack of response does not hurt any less.

Then there is the nurturing aspect of the tenuous relationship wherein the one feels the compulsion to care for the other who may or may not be in need of such concern. This maternal (or paternal) instinctive, expressed desire may lead to stress and anxiety leading to dissatisfaction and frustration with the tenor of the relationship on the part of the demeaned one who may lash out with reactive responses that may in themselves be thoroughly misinterpreted. There are ways to handle misconceptions, and tone and attitude in the responses are paramount in setting up tactful methodologies to address those touchy issues. Each one is reacting as he or she has been reared and practiced to do; it does not have to be delivered as a personal affront, intentional or not. After all, it is the perception of each as to the meaning of the message and not the intent of the messenger.

A compromise can be in the form of an internal and intentional re-evaluation of perceptions of incidental realities. Sweet spots on the floor and dots on the wall may be imperceptible to one while at the same time be perceived as mind-boggling acts of pure and unadulterated negligence by the other. Again, it is not personal. Life goes on. Determine what is important at this stage of life and adjust reactions accordingly. Leaving the commode seat up is not an attempt to cripple or drown an unsuspecting spouse, nor is leaving it down an attempt to utilize shock therapy to attain a specific reaction or convey a pertinent message. Shower curtains not left in the drying position is not necessarily a careless disregard for logical behavior; it could be simply an oversight – no matter how often it occurs – of what is expected to be done. Constant reminders to be careful or call me are purposeful and gentle reminders that one cares. That is the way they should be taken and not as signs of henpecking or badgering. Accepting that is a form of compromise, expressed or not.

Compromise is giving up something of the one for the sake of something better for both. If each partner looks at compromise in that way, the path to a peaceful coexistence is more probable than not. It does not have to be a ritualistic sacrifice with something going up in a blaze of glory in its utter immolation of everyone involved. It is a solution for a specific problem. Do not let it create a new set of problems requiring endless compromises until there is nothing left for each to give. It could be as simple as agreeing to disagree, accepting the mishaps and missteps for which each one is individually responsible as part of the human frailty of not being infallibly perfect, remembering what brought the two together in the first place, realizing that change is an inevitable part of growth, and accepting the fact that with those changes so also comes the mental and physical debilitation so unavoidable in a universe that is not known as a Brave New World. Compromise enables everyone to accept the inherent differences in each other not just by giving up something of the self but also by adding a new dimension to that same self that makes it better than the original. Everybody wins.