The Art and…. the Necessity of Compromise in a Stepfamily

My husband, David and I sat down and asked ourselves “what is the most valuable tool to help make a stepfamily a success?” there are many tools a stepfamily uses to keep the peace and hang on to all that love they have for each other. After some consideration, we decided compromise was hugely important. It is vital to get good at the art of compromise both for a successful marriage and stepfamily. Being giving and forgiving goes a long way with compromise, and they are great qualities to have.

We know that wherever there is human interaction not every party is going to get what they want in a situation, to move ahead there has to be some accommodation by one, other or all of the parties. In other words, compromise in general is the ability of parties to find a mutually acceptable resolution to an issue where they started at differing ends of a spectrum and were able to find a middle ground.

Easy, right?

Well… for the young couple newly married, having the advantage of limited complexity in their lives, perhaps the glow of recent nuptials assisting the process, I suspect so. Not so much for the stepfamily participants who often have exceedingly complex situations with divided loyalties along family lines added onto the usual pressures of life. However, compromise in our view is not a choice, it is an absolute necessity especially in the stepfamily. We also believe there is a good compromise process and a sure fail process.

Let’s break it down;

Are there situations you should not compromise

We do not have to dwell on this, but of course, situations of safety, illegality, and integrity. In some circumstances, religious beliefs or fundamental values will stand in the way of a compromise. Know your partner well and avoid seeking a compromise solution, which is simply not tenable.

Where is a compromise appropriate?

In family life there are many circumstances that warrant compromise. Essentially, where a compromise is appropriate that is when the value of maintaining a good relationship far outweighs the risk of achieving an outcome that in so doing adds additional strain on that relationship. The saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” comes to mind here.

Often the matter at hand is only moderately important and certainly does not merit the time, energy and upset to go to battle over. There may be a time component and a recognition that meeting in the middle will simply resolve the issue albeit for the time being.

What is the process of reaching a compromise?

Let’s back up first and acknowledge that there are two ends of the compromise continuum that will not work.

One is the person who is so prideful they cannot see their way to a compromise as it is “giving in” or being weak and they will fight on that ground alone. The other is the “giver/pleasure” personality that will compromise as the least course of resistance, but bear a grudge of having to do so. As this goes on that grudge gets ever deep seeded.

I remember a counseling session when such a person acknowledged that they had agreed to something, but really the other party should have known better and never asked them to in the first place. I always loved the comment as well that someone does not like conflict and hence does not want to be in conflict– I have been hard pressed over the years to find someone that really enjoys it. So, coming to a fair and agreeing on a compromise is work, but a process that needs to be understood and practiced.

Here are steps in the compromise process:

1. Discuss the underlying issue

Once you recognize that you there is no easy way to resolve the issue, then put feelings aside for a moment and revisit what is the underlying issue and why is it becoming such an issue. Sometimes issues become bigger over the time that you have been discussing it and take on an importance that may not really be there. Take a step back and ask yourselves is this really an issue worth fighting over and is there not a fair compromise that can be forthcoming which will resolve the issue.

2. Taking a deeper dive

If the issue remains, then take a moment, with pen and paper, if necessary, to clearly articulate what you want and why. Share this with each other and then really think about your partner and what is motivating them. I remember a situation where clients were at odds over participation in “rep” sports. It turned out the father had been a very competitive young athlete and saw many benefits in organized youth sports. He saw it as instrumental in his personal development, with a better understanding of his passion they could find a compromise.

Some extra pointers:

1. Be sure to be forthcoming in the process so that it is not an effort to maneuver your partner into a compromise.

2. Try to come up together with multiple solutions. Try to look at the positives in the other’s suggestions and perhaps see your way to a mutual solution. Again, revisit how important is the issue and is it really worth going to war over.

3. See compromise as strength, not weakness. After all, you are both trying to make a compromise to ensure you can move ahead smoothly. You have both shown confidence in resolving your issues in a mutually agreeable manner. You will feel good about this.

3. Compromise vs Sacrificing

However, at the end of the day one or other might have to be prepared to give in and that might not sit well.

At this point it is important to distinguish between compromise and sacrifice. A compromise is where you have both given up something to come to an agreement and move forward. Sacrifice is where one party has given in entirely to move forward. If it is the latter, there has to be a reasonable acknowledgement that this has happened, and one party has decided to simply give over. The other party has taken one for the team, but a relationship built on one person always being the compromiser will undoubtedly fail over time.

Take a moment and acknowledge that sacrifice made and move on with the understanding that it was just for this occasion. At that point everyone moves on harbouring no ill will for having sacrificed or a feeling that the other has set a precedent that sacrificing is easier.


Let’s face it, no compromise can take place unless you are able to listen calmly to what your partner’s view might be. Communication will allow compromise to happen. Putting in the time and energy to discuss an issue is critical.

We know compromise is work, but certainly well worth it.

Our regards

Blythe and David