Many couples fail to make headway on solvable problems because they don’t know how to compromise. To learn compromise, you must accept influence

As we all know, this means keeping an open mind, but it’s important to remember what keeping an open mind means: 

You don’t have to agree with everything your partner says or believes, but you have to be open to hearing his or her position, opinions, and desires. 

If you catch yourself sitting with your arms folded, shaking your head while your partner is talking, stop. Your discussion will never get anywhere that way.

Once you’re ready to accept influence, finding a solution you both can live with is not complicated. Often, compromise is just a matter of talking through your differences in a structured fashion, without allowing defensiveness or negativity overwhelm your discussion.

For today’s Weekend Homework Assignment, we would like to share one of our most popular exercises from The Art & Science of Love weekend workshop. It is also included in Dr. Gottman’s New York Times bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  If you are familiar with the exercise or have completed it with your partner before, feel free to add your own creative items to the inventory!

The Gottman Island Survival Game:

Imagine yourself shipwrecked with your partner on a tropical desert island. Gilligan and Ginger are nowhere in sight – the two of you are the only survivors. You have no idea where you are. A storm appears to be on the way. You decide that you need to prepare to survive on this island for some time, and to find some way to ensure you can be spotted by a rescue party. There are a lot of items from the ship on the beach that could help you, but you can only carry ten items.

Step 1: Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider to be the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list below. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you. Give the most crucial item a 1, the next most important item a 2, and so on.

Ship’s Inventory:

  • Two changes of clothing 
  • AM-FM and short-wave radio receiver 
  • Ten gallons of water 
  • Pots and pans 
  • Matches 
  • Shovel 
  • Backpack 
  • Toilet paper 
  • Two tents 
  • Two sleeping bags 
  • Knife 
  • Small life raft, with sail 
  • Sunblock lotion 
  • Cookstove and lantern 
  • Long rope 
  • Two walkie-talkie sender-receiver units 
  • Freeze-dried food for seven days 
  • One change of clothing 
  • One fifth of whiskey 
  • Flares 
  • Compass 
  • Regional aerial maps 
  • Gun with six bullets 
  • Fifty packages of condoms 
  • First-aid kit with penicillin 
  • Oxygen tanks

Step 2: Share your list with your partner. Together come up with a consensus list of ten items. This means talking it over and working as a team to solve the problem. Both of you need to be influential in discussing your viewpoint and in making the final decisions.

Step 3: Once you have compromised on a third list, it’s time to evaluate how the game went. Think about how effective you were at influencing your partner and how effective they were at influencing you. Did either of you try to dominate? Were you competitive? Ask yourself if you had fun. Did both of you work well as a team and feel included, or did you sulk, withdraw, express irritability/anger?

Acknowledge any problem areas and agree to work together on these issues with your partner!

We can’t change bad habits overnight, but we can move forward if we take responsibility for the part we play, and we can work together. To learn more about overcoming relationship troubles caused by issues of compromise, make sure to pick up a copy of Dr. Gottman’s bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. 


More in The Archives

Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.