Couples often come to counseling in hopes that the therapist will be a referee, declaring a winner and a loser in each argument. For a lot of people, being “right” is really important. They lay out evidence, argue about who said what when, focus on facts and ignore feelings.
Being right feels good for a minute. It’s a little high, you feel in control of the world for a minute, superior to others. But those feelings are not lasting, or satisfying, because the truth is, you are not really in control of the world or better than others. Being “right” also means the other person is “wrong,” and if being right makes you feel good for a minute, being wrong makes the other person feel defensive, sad, angry, and lonely. And those emotions tend to last a whole lot longer than your good feelings last.
Many times, being attached to being “right” is rooted in a feeling of insecurity and fear. Arguing and arrogance get put on like a mask to hide those awful feelings. Insecurity is so understandable in relationships. Connecting to a partner makes you incredibly vulnerable. It’s scary and can bring up your worst fears about being “not good enough,” and your fears of being rejected. So you turn that fear on its head, put on a show of feeling “better than” to mask the underlying feeling of “less than.” And then you have to defend that position at all costs, you have to be right about everything. Because being “wrong” will bring back those feelings of vulnerability, insecurity, and fear.
So trying to be right all the time is a strategy to protect against vulnerability and fear of rejection. The irony is, being right all the time leads to some major relationship problems, and actually increases the likelihood of rejection. You create the situation you feared.
In couples therapy, it’s important to let go of the question of who is right and who is wrong. If you are insistent about being “right” (and trying to make yourself feel good), then you are also insistent about your partner being “wrong” (and feeling bad). Being determined to make your partner feel bad is not a recipe for relationship success.
Focusing on feeling loved instead of being right doesn’t mean you have to let go of your brain completely or never have an intellectual debate again. It doesn’t mean collapsing into a defeated “fine, you win” stance, or an insincere “whatever, I guess you are right” response, either. It means choosing to focus on the love and care you feel for your partner, and responding authentically from that place.
Next time you find yourself locked in an endless fight or holding a grudge, try pausing and taking a breath. Check in with yourself: is it more important to be right about this detail, or is it more important to be loving and feel loved? What is more valuable to me: being right about this, or having a happy and caring relationship? See if once in awhile you want to try dropping the fight and trying for connection instead. After connecting with your partner, check back in with yourself. Does it still feel so important to be right?