By David Joel Miller.
Which is more important a relationship or being right?
The conflicts between people often revolve around who is right. Reminder, relationships do not all need to be primarily romantic or sexual ones. We have relationships all the time with people. Counselors spend a lot of time thinking about and working on something called the “therapeutic relationship.” The relationship between you and your therapist or doctor matters immensely.
Sometimes the most impactful relationships are the ones we have with people we say we are not in a relationship with. A lot of time in therapy is spent on the remnants of relationships past. You may still need support and healing from things that happened in that past relationship. You may have frustrations and anger from trying to deal with that ex now in the present.
Couples coming in for therapy wants to know who is right.
Don’t spend your time going for counseling to have a third-party decide who is right. It is a waste of your time. Sometimes a counselor can help a bit with a thing called “reality testing.” Which means if someone’s thinking is a bit off we can give you some perspective. How does an outsider see things? That does not automatically mean that anyone is right or wrong.
What often should be on the table is the question, “Which is more important to you, proving you are right or saving the relationship?” Some people would rather toss the relationship than admit they were wrong about anything.
If you are thinking that describes you to a “T” then consider if your need to always be right, even at the cost of a friendship or relationship, may be saying volumes about the issues you should be working on in therapy. Mainly this means you need to work on you not them.
When you get into a disagreement is it important for you to be right?
If in a disagreement you feel you always need to be right, you may need to be right, and alone, a lot. People with intact egos can admit when they are wrong. Those who feel confident in their position do not need to prove others are wrong to validate themselves. It is usually the very insecure that need to stay on the argument until they force the other person to agree.
Right is in the eye of the beholder.
Two people can disagree and both of them can be right. Perspective makes all the difference. A couple comes in for relationship counseling. Over the weekend they went shopping for a new car. New to them anyway. They have no car and riding on the bus is making their work lives more difficult.
One of them, probably the man, picked out a car and insists they need to buy this one. His partner is insisting that they can’t afford the car it costs too much. This conflict has rapidly escalated from problem-solving to who is right and then heads for the stratosphere when they each begin attacking the other.
Things like “you only think about yourself” and “you are so selfish” get said. Who is right? How would the therapist know? You can ride the bus, maybe, but how long does it take to get there with the transfers? Does the bus even go to the place you work at? How far will you have to walk and so on? It is also very likely that this car is too expensive given this couple’s income.
The trap here is that each has a stake in being right rather than in solving the problem. Some of these need-to-be-right arguments tear relationships apart and may even end in divorce. See it was never about buying the car, it was always the emotions behind being right and having the other person support you.
You can’t beat someone into believing what you believe.
This form of conflict resolution and the need to have others agree with you has been going on as long as humans have walked on two legs. At least I believe it has.
We see this playing out on a horrific scale in the Middle East. From where I sit in the western world all members of the Islamic religion seem very alike. The differences between them seem minor. But they can see differences that lead them to violence in an effort to make everyone else believe what they believe.
Less we get smug about this, Christianity has a long history of fighting to get everyone to believe what they see as the absolute truth. Unfortunately, the Catholics see one truth and the Protestants see another. The Protestants have always prided themselves on being able to divide up into increasingly small groups and exclude all who do not believe correctly.
Despite our efforts to have a pluralistic society, there are plenty of conflicts over who’s belief about what is the correct one. When countries, religions and political parties are so quick to fight it out over whose belief is correct, is there any wonder why people extend this to closer relationships, like partners and friends?
Getting the other person to stop arguing with you does not make you right.
It is tempting to believe that if the other person or country stops fighting you then you have won and that means you were right. Neither of these things may be true. My earnest hope is that our leaders, political and religious, will find a way to get countries and religions to stop fighting over whose belief is right. My efforts are more directed to helping couples, family and individuals to work on putting their relationship before their need to be right about everything.
On the personal relationship level, when the other person stops expressing their opinion you have probably damaged the relationship.
Consider for yourself – is it more important to be right, win the argument even if this ends the relationship? Win enough arguments and you can end up in a very lonely isolated world.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books