From working with couple’s for over 30 years some disturbing trends have evolved that appear like a train wreck in the making. When couples go off the rails being right by one or both partner is usually somewhere in the mix. Being right is a roadblock, it cuts off communication and causes the process to be driven up a dead end with no redemption. Usually, I see exasperated people coming in with little hope of coming to terms with the pile of issues that have not been resolved. It gets pretty daunting to dig out from the mess that is stirred up by needing and wanting to be right. I say this as a reformed right person who has found the holy grail of communication. The willingness to be wrong, to see it from the other person’s point of view and even be able to let them know that I hear them. What a concept?
There is plenty to say about being right and how much we love it. No one wants to be wrong, not unless you also like whips and chains applied to your extremities. Being right has deeper origins. The need to be right is about not wanting to have our worst fears about ourselves confirmed by our partner. Being right means we are strong, not weak, adequate not inadequate, smart, not dumb and most importantly, lovable. The real culprit is our negative feelings toward ourselves that we cannot allow other people to see let alone ourselves.
Our psyche does a great job of hiding those dirty little secrets way back in the recesses of our brain for safekeeping. Long long ago we were humiliated when we tried to express ourselves so our brain tucks that information away to protect us from any kind of humiliation by altering reality. It takes quite a bit to change someone’s sense of reality. It’s the way they see it and that’s it. To infer that their perception could be askew usually evokes righteous indignation followed by angry insults or blame. “You made me angry because you did the very thing I told you never to do.” That is usually something that is either next to impossible or actually off the charts in terms of unrealistic expectations from others. Being right is the penultimate lack of empathy. It’s about saving our butts by not looking at the fact that we are being an ass.
Being right is the most wrong thing we can do in a relationship because it eliminates the other person, makes them feel invisible and bad. When one person has to be right it means the other one must be wrong. Usually perfectionism goes hand in hand with being right. Underneath wanting to be perfect is an imperfect, self critical, demanding and angry person trying to get out.
Allowing ourselves to be wrong and to apologize if necessary creates a connection. After all what is more important than love and connection? If we can suspend our sense of being right in favor of listening and hearing what our partner is trying to tell us and take a look at our part in the issue it is the first step toward resolution.
I once asked a couple if they would rather be right or loved. Their answer was the latter but how many people never ask that question? That is our choice because being right kills love and being wrong allows us to see what we have done to upset our partner so we can make amends with understanding, compassion, and kindness.