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Would You Rather Be Right Or Be Loved?

by Jonathan Robinson

When handled effectively, conflict and difficulties can bring two people closer together. The real problem is something else.

I've got good news, and I've got bad news.

The bad news is, if you want a happy and loving relationship, you're going to have to give something up: your insistence on being right. When you insist on being right, what you indirectly communicate to your partner is that she is wrong. You simply can't insist on being right (a form of blame) and have intimacy. Believe me, I've tried. It's like trying to have complete darkness and light in the same room.

The good news is, if you're willing to let go of being right, you can easily experience plenty of love, harmony, and fulfillment in your relationship.

Conflict Is Inevitable

Conflict is inevitable between people. There is no getting around it. But conflict is not the problem. When handled effectively, difficulties can bring two people closer together. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for deeper intimacy to develop between partners without the aid of an occasional conflict.

What really tears couples apart is blame. Blame, or the insistence on being right and making one's partner wrong, is like a slow-acting poison. It can gradually creep into the entire way couples talk to each other until all the love once shared becomes completely polluted.

Since couples' problems stem largely from their need to be right, let's look at this phenomenon more closely.

When in a blame mode, all you know is that you are being more than fair, while your partner is being totally unreasonable. In desperation, you present clear-cut evidence to show him just how wrong he really is.

I guess we all secretly hope that one day, after stating our case, our mate will say something like the following: "Gee, I finally see what you've been trying to tell me! I've been totally wrong, and you've been right all along! I am so sorry I've hurt you. Could you please forgive me for the errors of my ways?"

Have you ever had someone sincerely say that to you? Nor have I. Clearly, the blame game does not ultimately get us what we want.

There are many ways to have a good relationship, but there's only one thing going on in bad relationships—blame. Unfortunately, when we insist on being right, everything we say will come out wrong. Since blame never works, when you strongly feel you're right, the first thing you need to do is dramatically change your attitude.

If you don't, your partner's blame detector will soon be triggered, and then you'll have a real mess on your hands.

How To Get Out Of The Blame Mode

What can we do to communicate effectively when we're upset, frustrated, and certain we're right? Over the years, I've experimented with ways I can quickly get myself out of the blame mode and into a state of mind conducive to loving communication.

After much trial and error, I finally came up with something that works for me and the many people I've taught it to. It's a series of three simple questions I ask myself when I think my partner is primarily to blame for whatever is going on in our relationship:

1. What is likely to happen if I insist on being right (and blaming my partner)?
2. Would I like to feel loved or be right?
3. What is something I especially like about my partner?

For small- and even medium-sized upsets, these questions are very effective for changing how you feel. Once you feel differently, you can much more easily communicate in a way that leads back to intimacy. Let's look at each of these questions more closely.

When you ask, "What is likely to happen if I insist on being right?" your mind should turn to think of the pain and failure you'll experience from being in the blaming mode. Depending on how you and your partner tend to handle such situations, you'll likely end up arguing with each other or giving each other the dreaded silent treatment. Neither feels very good.

Question number two asks, "Would I like to feel loved or be right?" This is not a trick question.

In that moment, you may well prefer to be right. If that's the case, I would suggest you avoid saying anything... until you no longer feel that way. If you say anything, it will almost surely lead to an argument.

Of course, it's okay to insist on being right and speak your mind. I still do that on occasion. But when I do, I'm not surprised by the miserable results I invariably have to endure.

If and when you're too angry to let go of being right, and just being silent with your anger doesn't feel like an option, there are a couple of things you can do. First, you can do what infants do—go have a temper tantrum.

I'm serious. Young kids yell and beat the floor when they're really upset, and then after a couple of minutes of a tantrum, they're fine again. Once all the anger has been expressed, they feel good.

Adults can achieve the same results by going into a separate room and beating the pillows on their bed for a couple of minutes. It feels good to let loose one's anger in a safe environment. By the time you're done, you'll feel more relaxed again and be able to communicate appropriately with your partner.

The one thing you must avoid is the one thing most couples do: They express anger and blame directly toward their partner. Admittedly, about one in a hundred people doesn't mind being yelled at. But the rest of us don't like it at all. It almost always leads to resentment, defensiveness, hurt, an escalation of the immediate problem you're dealing with, and a buildup of bad feelings that will create even more problems later on. I've seen couples who spend their entire relationship reacting to and recovering from their partner's anger. Like a bad Three Stooges movie, they spend most of their time trying to inflict pain upon their mate as a way of getting back at their partner for something she did to them. It's a sad sight to behold, and definitely a situation you want to avoid.

Ready For The Third Question?

If you use the three questions before things get out of hand, you can tame the "blame monster" when it's small. If your feelings aren't so intense that you need to tantrum, and you realize you'd rather feel loved than be right, you're ready for the third question: "What is something I especially like about my partner?" Why ask such a question? Because your ability to communicate effectively with your partner is dependent on how you feel toward him or her. Even if you say the right words—but you're secretly blaming her, her blame detector will still be triggered (they can be darn sensitive), and her ears will completely turn off.

On the other hand, if you dredge up some semblance of caring for your mate, she'll pick up on it, even if your words aren't just right. The easiest way to get back to feeling connected with your partner is to ask, and then do your best to answer the question, "What is something I especially like about my partner?"

Extracted with permission from the book Communication Miracles for Couples, Conari Press. © 1997 by Jonathan Robinson.

Jonathan Robinson, M.A., M.F.C.C., is a psychotherapist, author, and professional speaker. In the last 5 years, Jonathan has reached over 300 million people around the world with his practical methods, and his work has been translated into 47 languages. Of the eight books he's written, Jonathan has authored 2 New York Times bestsellers: The Little Book of Big Questions and Communication Miracles. He offers a powerful range of self-improvement tools at "How To" Tools.


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