Compromise is finding a middle ground that, while it may not solve the worst of the conflict, at least makes things better.  It moves each person toward the other enough that each side can feel they got something they needed.   It is not perfect, in terms of everyone getting everything they want, but a good compromise gives you something essential that you weren’t getting before.  Compromise is a starting point for rebuilding trust. It also restores faith in reason’s (with compassion) ability to solve otherwise intractable problems.  It’s a necessary first step back to healthier relations, once things have deteriorated badly enough to require negotiation.

If your complaint is that you were blamed unfairly, got 100% of the blame when at most 50% was your share, and the blame was insisted on over and over during a year of emotional withdrawal, accusations, threats, framing everything as a war you cannot win (hi, Dad!) a compromise saying “OK, fine, you were only 50% to blame for our little impasse” is probably not enough of a compromise to satisfy you, unless you are very easily satisfied.  For one thing, you have no reason to trust that next time you won’t experience the same thing, with the identical maddening aftermath.

A long, tense negotiation to get what should have been given to you at once, something like the benefit of the doubt based on a long friendship, only after a year of fighting (if you consider months incommunicado to be a form of fighting), is unlikely, after a year of senseless warfare, to produce a compromise to undo the harm of that long war.   Getting an apology from someone, after months stubbornly posed in the same judgmental position, is like getting an expensive get well card a year after you get out of the hospital and are fine.   

Most of us are bad at apologizing.  The most important part of the apology is recognizing the pain you caused somebody else, empathizing with why what you did was hurtful.  If the same thing had been done to me, I’d be hurt too.  Without this crucial component, and telling the other person we were wrong, and asking for forgiveness, a formal apology is a pose for prigs.  The prig [1] can later say “I fucking apologized to you, you unforgiving fuck!” and once again feel like the righteous victim.

An apology that doesn’t recognize the harm done is a poor excuse for an apology.  An apology that does not contain a promise not to repeat the same hurtful behavior is very, very weak tea (piss, actually).  What gives an apology the power to heal is the sincere concession that you would have been just as hurt as the person who is upset about what you did, if the roles had been reversed.   Without this recognition of the other person’s right to be unhappy, you have only the meaningless shell of an apology.

Instead of real apology, many try to argue there is no need for any such thing, since what hurt you wouldn’t have hurt them and is so much water down the drain anyway, so long after the fact.  You see, ha ha, I’m doing it to myself now, it doesn’t hurt!  You see, I am strong and not hurt by things like that, normal people aren’t, you sad weakling.  This “I’m strong and wouldn’t have been hurt by that” line calls to mind Wanda Sykes beautiful takedown of right-wing blowhard Sean Hannity who bragged that he could take being waterboarded, would never be broken by the “enhanced interrogation” technique.  Sykes said “please, I could break Sean Hannity in a minute, just put him in a middle seat in coach, that punk would be singing in sixty seconds.”

As long as a failure of empathy is desperately defended to the death, I’m pretty sure there is no compromise that can bridge the inflamed gulf between two people.   Continuing to assign blame, no matter what, instead of demonstrating real empathy, is a sign that nobody is going to emerge from the negotiation with what they need.   If the party responsible for at least 50% of the hurt puts “fine, I’m 50% responsible, but you’re still wrong, too” on the table, that’s about that for our negotiated compromise.

Be ready to be pleasantly surprised by an offer of real compromise, but remember, too, the real world we live in.

[1] A prig is a person who shows an inordinately zealous approach to matters of form and propriety—especially where the prig has the ability to show superior knowledge to those who do not know the protocol in question. Wikipedia

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