Being Right versus Being Happy
How many of you have ever felt: “if only my partner would listen to me, she/he would see that I am right.” This is an attitude that most of us can relate to. We acquire this “I’m right” mentality quite honestly. Growing up, we believed that the way things were in our family was the way things were in the world. Our parents were our predominant model for relationship and marriage. Unfortunately, our partner also formed their beliefs through their family, a different family than the one in which we grew up. Now what do we do? Could there be more than one “right way” to do something? Only after we get older and experience other couples and how they relate, or we begin to work on ourselves, can we even imagine the possibility that there might be something different than what we grew up accepting. This article will explore ways to tame our inherent need to be right so that we can form our own definition of loving relationships.
Most people who have been in relationship for any length of time can relate to disagreements in the areas of household chores and finances. Let’s say, for example, that you were raised in a family where it was the man’s responsibility to take care of the yard and all indoor chores were considered woman’s work. What happens then, when you marry and your partner expects equal participation with all the chores? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How do you decide? Or, in the area of finances, suppose your family had a strict savings plan for future retirement and your partner was raised with the belief that one should enjoy the moment, trusting that the Universe will provide all that is necessary for her/his prosperity? What do you do? How do you resolve these differences?
First, we need to handle the nagging question that immediately comes up when working with issues of being right. Namely, how do you handle the feeling that you’re giving up something by letting the other person win or have their own way. As the Relationship Specialists, we support putting the relationship first. What this means is that when differences arise remember, you are in a relationship. You are no longer an individual living alone in your separate living space. You are sharing a life with another individual, someone who is very important to you. Therefore, put your focus where it belongs, on the problem, not your partner. Judith Wallerstein, in her new book: The Good Marriage: How And Why Love Lasts, talks about the importance of couples building togetherness while creating autonomy. She asks couples to keep in mind the question: “Is this good for the marriage?” In order to make the relationship work, you must choose to become a couple instead of merely two individuals living side by side. It is at this time that the decision can be made to put the relationship first.
Marilyn: I cannot count the number of arguments my ex-husband and I had where we would continually restate our position in an attempt to win one another over to our point of view. In exasperation I would finally say: “You’re right!” Of course, this did neither of one of us any good, as I did not believe that he was right, and he knew that, but the argument would die down; no real resolution, no winners. I developed a strong belief from this experience that you can keep your need to be right, or you can soften a bit and be happy. One of the things that inevitably comes up in counseling couples is the decision to put the relationship first if you want it to last. In other words, when you and your partner disagree on an issue, you need to decide what is more important, the relationship or being right and making the other person wrong. My belief is that if the couple can learn to become a team, us versus the problem, instead of me versus her/him, then a solution that works for both parties can be found, both people win, and the relationship is strengthened.
Chuck: When I was a teenager, I didn’t know it, but I always wanted to be right. This led to many fights with my girlfriend. It took years of fighting before I noticed that if I didn’t have to be right there was no fight. I began to try and see my partner’s point of view and why I was so intent in holding on to my position. It took different relationships and some soul searching to figure out that I was always just as much to blame in any given situation.
It is still a learning experience. When Marilyn and I have disagreements, I still want to be right most of the time, but I’m finding some added awareness which allows me to see a bigger picture. This is what we spoke about earlier, namely, putting the problem outside the relationship. In my mind, many times now, it has become more important for Marilyn and I to remain happy rather than my being right. If that means stopping an argument right in the middle because I can see that I want to be right, then fine, let’s do it. It also means admitting much more readily when I am wrong.
Marilyn and Chuck: In our relationship, we strive to come together as a couple to work through our disagreements. This is not always possible, but when it happens our relationship feels special. This is because when one of us chooses the relationship over the need to be right, the other person actually feels honored and more loved. It doesn’t happen that often yet, but when it does the results make us both try harder.
This article, written by Marilyn and Chuck, is reprinted with permission from Woman’s Way Magazine. Copyright © 2001 the Relationship Specialists, Inc. All rights reserved.