This is one of my favourite relationship quotes. If you can’t see the image above, it says, “You Can be RIGHT or you can be in RELATIONSHIP”.
I’m not sure who said it or where it comes from, but I like it because it really captures the dilemma that many couples find themselves in. And this doesn’t just apply to couple communication. It’s also relevant for communication in families, friendships, and the workplace. But for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on the dynamic in a couple’s relationship.
This quote speaks to me about the consequences of being attached to being right and always wanting the ‘win’ when you’re discussing issues in your relationship. This often leads to you bickering with your partner and a power struggle and almost never produces a ‘win-win’ but instead produces a ‘win-lose.’
There are consequences to needing to be right at all costs, and these include:
- You are unable to be curious and discover new things about your partner’s point of view.
- You miss out on the opportunity to work together to create a third possibility- one that comes from the dialogue between you and your partner.
- You aren’t able to be empathic when you need to be right, and this impacts the quality of your connection with your partner.
The sad thing is, when your partner loses, you both lose because you can’t build a healthy connection with another person based on inequality.
How to effectively deal with conflict in your relationship
There are a number of things you can do to avoid setting yourself up for a win-lose dynamic and communication problems in your relationship.
Consider these points when discussing important issues (in sequential order):
- raise the issue at an appropriate time that works for both of you
- if it’s not a good time for one of you, make another time then-and-there to meet again
- only raise one issue at a time and stay on track with that issue not allowing any other issues to be raised
- raise your issue with a soft start-up
- before you respond, let you partner know what you have heard and check your understanding is correct
- ask open-ended questions to allow your partner to go deeper into their side of the issue e.g. ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ questions are good, but avoid ‘why’ questions if possible
- once you have fully understood what your partner is saying, validate his/her perspective by letting them know what makes sense to you
- respond with empathy to his/her perspective to build more connection e.g. “I imagine you feel…[insert feeling]…is that how you feel?”
- once your partner has expressed everything about the issue from their perspective, then it’s time for you to respond with your perspective using the same structure
Can you see where the challenges are in this process?
Most couples cannot tolerate suspending their responses while listening, reflecting, asking questions, validating and being empathic. This is the part where your need to be right trumps the validity of what your partner is sharing. You then discount and dismiss their perspective because you are so fixated on making sure that your truth is the one that is superior.
Why curiosity is the ‘secret sauce’ for loving relationships
The biggest tool you can use in resolving conflict effectively is curiosity. And this is no easy task for most couples.
Being curious about what your partner is saying when every cell in your body wants to defend yourself is one of the most challenging tasks that all couples need to develop in order to become effective at resolving conflict. And not developing it can lead to relationship ruin.
You see, what curiosity does is:
- shows your partner you care about their thoughts and feelings
- gives you more data about the issue to increase your understanding
- helps you suspend your own reactivity and defensiveness
- de-escalates volatile discussions that are fuelled by fast-moving reactivity
You’re both right and you’re both wrong
The truth in the discussion of any issue is that you’re both right and you’re both wrong.
What I mean by this is there are always two different realities that are both true at any given time. Each of you perceives the issue from your own perspective, and that viewpoint is your own reality that is true for you.
We could also say that you’re both wrong as well. Neither of you could ever appreciate every single part and nuance of the issue that your partner is sharing. None of us have omnipresent powers, so any perspective is limited by what we can see, hear, and feel with our senses.
I believe bringing a humble attitude to the discussion of your issues can have wonderful benefits for you both. When you can truly be humble about how little you actually know, you realise that you don’t need to be right. And of course, there’s no such thing as a right and wrong when you truly appreciate the complexity of human relationships.
Next time you’re getting ready for discussing an important issue, I invite you to be humble and bring your curiosity to the conversation. Then watch what happens. You might be surprised by the results.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.