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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

When it’s Good to Compromise in Your Relationship (& When it’s Bad)

Whether you’ve been in one or not, you’ve probably heard that relationships are hard work, especially in college. We change so much in the four short years, and it can be tough to maintain a relationship with someone else who is changing just as much as you are! So, how do college couples do it? One word: compromise! Relationships are all about the give and take, and it’s important to be willing to compromise with your SO in order to maintain a healthy, happy relationship.

While compromising might seem like the obvious choice when it comes to where to go to dinner or what to do on a Friday night, there are plenty of other situations in which the decision to compromise (or not to) can be tricky. But don’t worry; when it comes to figuring out when to compromise and when to stand your ground, Her Campus has you covered.

What you should not compromise on

1. Your values

In order to grow from a relationship, you have to know what you want out of it and, perhaps more importantly, what you need out of it. “I suggest each person get clear about their own non-negotiables or deal-breakers in relationships,” says Kim Olver, author of Secrets of Happy Couples. “When you are not in a relationship is the time to consider your non-negotiables. What are the things you absolutely must have from your partner?”

Olver points out that everyone’s “non-negotiables” are different, and all are valid. You may decide that you value your religion and wouldn’t feel comfortable dating someone outside of it. You may feel that you value friendship above all else, and wouldn’t be happy dating someone who took too much time away from your girl friends. Your values are valid simply by virtue of being important to you, so don’t compromise on them!

For all those single ladies out there, now is the time for a little introspective soul-searching. Figure out what you would want out of a relationship and make a list. When you find yourself in a relationship, don’t allow that honeymoon phase to sway your resolve when it comes to demanding your non-negotiables. After all, they’re non-negotiable for a reason!

2. Your goals

It may feel silly, but dreams are an integral part of your identity. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of volunteering in Africa or studying abroad in Paris. Maybe you want to intern on the set of a TV show in Los Angeles or launch your own fashion line. When you’re single, you typically have more time and energy to devote to your dreams than when you’re caught up in the comfortable cycle of dinner dates and movie nights.

While it’s definitely possible (and ideal) to have a relationship that helps you grow towards your dreams, a relationship can become problematic if it causes you to choose it over your dreams.

“My best guy friend was planning on going abroad for the whole year this year,” says Megan*, a junior at Colby College. “But once he started dating his girlfriend, he realized he couldn’t trust her and decided not to go abroad at all. In my opinion, this was a horrible compromise, if it’s even a compromise at all.”

Putting your dreams off for a few months is one thing (say your SO is going through a family crisis and you cut your volunteer trip short a couple weeks to be there for him or her), but a relationship should never keep you from following your dreams indefinitely. You may feel that life with your SO is a dream come true, but don’t forget the dreams you had before you fell head over heels!

3. Your safety

This is a big one, collegiettes. “No one should have to compromise on his or her own safety,” Olver says. “If your boyfriend/girlfriend hurts you physically, it is time to prioritize yourself and get out of that situation.”

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic abuse includes controlling whom you see, discouraging you from seeing friends or family, threatening you, physically harming you or forcing you into situations that make you feel uncomfortable. If you are experiencing any of these situations, call the 24/7 hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Safety isn’t just limited to violence or emotional or physical abuse; it can also mean pressuring you into things you know are harmful. “We look for partners with the same values so we don’t compromise many of the things that are most important to us,” says Jay Hurt, author of The 9 Tenets of a Successful Relationship. “For example, if drug use, sex before marriage or any misogynistic relationship is a compromise to who you are, don’t do it. Any request that threatens your character is a compromise you should not make.”

If your SO is pressuring you into sex before you’re ready or trying to get you to try a substance you’re not comfortable with, not only are your values being compromised, but your health and safety are as well.

What you can compromise on

1. How you socialize

When it comes to where you go to eat or which party you go to on Friday night, compromise is the way to go. “You may have to compromise about how you spend time, including how much time you spend together, what activities you engage in together, whose friends you spend time with at a particular time, etc.,” says Dr. Mark Sharp, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the Aiki Relationship Institute in Illinois. Obviously this will be much easier if you have the same friend groups or engage in the same activities, but if you don’t, a bit of compromise might be in order.

Maybe you decide that you and your SO will have date night once a week when you turn off your phones for a few hours and just enjoy each other’s company without compromising your other friendships and commitments. Rachel, a junior at the University of Kentucky, found carving out a specific time for her boyfriend to be super helpful. “We realized once we made focused time for each other, instead of worrying about what our to-do lists were, it made our relationship much stronger,” Rachel says.

In a loving relationship, you and your SO should be willing to make small compromises when it comes to how you spend your time in order to maintain a healthy balance.

2. Things that help you grow as an individual

Dr. Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert, points out that just because something is uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy.

“Compromise on something that will help you to grow and step you out of your comfort zone,” Dr. Wanis says. Just like stepping outside of your comfort zone by going backpacking through Europe or moving to New York City after graduation can be nerve-wracking but ultimately a positive growing experience, relationships can be the same!

You might want to see your out-of-state SO all the time, but compromising by sticking to visits every other weekend will not only help your relationship, but will also help you to grow as an individual, which is what good relationships are all about! Don’t be afraid of compromise just because it’s unfamiliar, especially if it can be a growing experience.

So how do you know if one of you is compromising too much in a relationship? “If one person is always getting their way the other is probably giving up too much,” Dr. Sharp says.

If your SO makes you feel guilty for wanting to stick to your guns, there’s a good chance you’re giving too much to your relationship and not getting enough in return.

“Ask yourself, if your best friend was in your shoes, would you tell her to stay or would you tell her to walk away?” Hurt asks. You would never let your bestie be in a relationship in which she wasn’t appreciated, so show yourself the same love!

At the same time, there will undoubtedly be times when one of you winds up compromising more than the other. If your relationship is balanced and healthy the majority of the time, it’s a good idea to stick it out. “It’s time to fight when you have been together a while (say, a year or longer) and most of that time things have been good,” says Dr. Seth Meyers, a licensed psychologist and the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.

Just because you and your SO don’t agree on every little thing doesn’t mean you’re not in a healthy relationship. As long as you can grow as an individual while growing as a couple and you don’t feel like you have to compromise on your values and the things that are important to you, you’re in good shape, collegiette!

*Name has been changed.

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Sophie Dodd


Sophie is currently a senior at Middlebury College in (very) rural Vermont and loves it. In addition to majoring in English and double minoring in Classics and Film, Sophie loves watching makeup tutorials, buying magazines in bulk, obsessively repainting her nails and catching up on The Vampire Diaries. Oh, and she's completely obsessed with Christmas, coffee, and her two kittens, Luna and Zuzu.