A Shrinking Circle

Posted on June 3, 2021


Among the tools developed by John & Julie Gottman to help couples managing conflict is “The Art of Compromise.”  The concept is that in every conflict we have some areas in which we are able to be flexible and some areas in which are inflexible.  Part of being able to compromise effectively is in identifying for your self and communicating to your partner where you are able to be flexible, and where you feel you can’t.

Usually, where we have areas of inflexibility, those are the places where one fears either compromising some core value or not getting some essential need met.  This assumes that we aren’t digging our heals in out of spite or resentment which is another matter.  For most of us, in any conflict, there are places where I am willing to give in and places where I feel the need to stand my ground.  One of the many things that separates the masters of relationship from the disasters is their ability to communicate this in constructive ways and work toward solutions as a team rather than adversaries. 

This post is not primarily about The Art of Compromise.  It is more a bit of self-reflection. 

It has been occurring to me recently, that the center circle (the area of inflexibility) is not as large as it was when I was a younger man.  It seems that fewer and fewer things are a hill to die on.  I am still in the process of formulating for myself why that is.  But I have a few theories.

Life experience.  There are many things that make grandparenting easier than parenting.  E pluribus unum is the long view.  You have a better view of what is going to matter in five or ten years and what really isn’t.  Consequently, you are less likely to take a stand on issues that in the long run aren’t that big of a deal.  Perhaps that applies here.  There is just not that much that seems like something I need to be inflexible about in relationships.

Needs being met.  In general, at this point in my life, I am confident that my relationship needs will be met in my close relationships.  Consequently, I don’t need/have as a great an area of inflexibility.  There are precious few places where I need to hold the line to get my needs met.

Life circumstance.  Admittedly, there is very little gap between how my life is and how I would have it to be.  Under such circumstances, there is a lot less to fight over.  There are also fewer things on the time horizon to stress over.  The kids are out of the house and off the payroll.  I could retire anytime I decide that I have done my gig. 

This process seems to have happened for me organically.  But it gives me pause to wonder if I could have been intentional about really taking a look at those areas of inflexibility decades earlier.  There may have been some places where it was the right thing to stand by my areas of inflexibility, but I suspect in most cases everything would have been fine if I had fewer of those. 

As the late great philosopher, Tom Petty, once sang, “most of the things I worry about, never happen anyway[1].” 

[1] If that’s not ringing any bells for you, it was from “Crawling Back to You” from the Wildflowers album. 

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