It’s amazing to think that my husband and I have been married for almost 24 years! Whoa! I used to think that I had to be right when disagreeing with my husband. When a conflict arose with extended family or friends, being right was my safe place. If I was right and he was wrong then I win, right? Societally rewards come from knowing things. Rewards come from our parents if we make the “right” choices. We receive rewards if we do the right things to fit in and from our teachers, for doing homework, and having the correct answers. We naturally want to be right because we know this has positive results attached to it and it feels safe.
Consequences of Being Right
When it comes to relationships, being right takes on a different role. If you are arguing with your spouse and you insist on being right, what happens? Are you able to hear your spouses’ or significant others’ needs, concerns, points? According to Psychology Today, “For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be “wrong.” The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, while attachment to this end serves to justify the means used to facilitate it. When this dynamic is acted out, it creates suffering for those caught in its wake—most often partners and family members, including children.”
My Experience With Being Right
In my experience, right meant safe. I remember one difficult day where I was so focused on being right while arguing with my husband, and we came close to getting physical with each other. At the moment as we locked horns, so to speak, I heard the kids cry out for us to stop. It was at this moment that I realized I needed to leave the house and catch my breath. After calming down, I felt embarrassed by my relentless need to be right and how the effects of my actions had spilled over to the kids. Fear and pain were visible in their eyes. I also felt the pain. I was sad that I had been so harsh with my husband in the name of being right.
After giving myself some time to think, I asked myself, “What is the ultimate result I am looking for in this situation?” I had valid points but this was not the way. When I realized the consequences of it, the kids fear and pain, my sadness and hurt, and the hurt that my husband was feeling, not to mention the stress you go through physically; high blood pressure, increased adrenaline, elevated heart rate, I decided to choose a better way to communicate. Maybe being happy requires a more flexible approach.
Attachment to Being Right and What it Does to Relationships
Many of us get attached to being right to validate ourselves and to help us feel better about things that are hurting us. It’s easier to blame someone else than to look at what we truly want and find a healthy way to get there. This requires stepping back and doing the work to find a cooperative way to communicate. Sometimes this means waiting until we are calm to share a concern or observation with our partner.
Don’t be Tricked! Choose Happy
Sometimes this means not focusing only on what’s wrong but on the things we appreciate and why we fell in love with them in the first place. The easy way is to dig our heels in and fight for what is right. Don’t do it! It’s a trick! It is not easier in the long run, because the damage to yourself and others can be lasting. If we had taken it a step further and one of us would have thrown a punch, that would be much harder to rectify than choosing to not be right in the moment or working out a compromise. The kids would have had lasting damage. No one would feel good.
I realize that this could seem like an oversimplification of communication in relationships and it may be necessary to invite a professional relationship coach or therapist into your life to get some additional help for complex issues. We have done all of the above. At times we’ve gone to couples therapy and at times we have had to coach ourselves on how to cool off or leave the room before saying or doing damaging things in the heat of the moment. You will find what works best for you.
I think it was my Mom or Dad that said to me as a kid, “Brooke, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” This has never left me. This is why I share with you that I think being right doesn’t always mean being happy. If we’re happy it doesn’t really matter who’s right or wrong. It’s up to you! What makes you happy? Will you make decisions that steer you to happiness? What do you love to do? Who do you love to be with? If your relationship isn’t making you happy in an angry moment, take a short break, catch your breath, focus on the ultimate result you are looking for. Let’s put the focus on happiness instead of being right and watch it pay dividends for the rest of your life!