When Kanya was in grad school, she had a professor who used to ask if students would prefer to be happy or right.
At the time, she was young and still valued being right above all else. Now, with time and experience behind her, she realizes that being happy is much more important than being right.
Kanya’s figured it out, but this question plagues many relationships. The question for couples is: How do we get over our natural desire to be proven right in the face of conflict?
Time magazine recently ran a story of an experiment in Australia about the husband of the couple who was encouraged to agree with everything his wife said. The experiment was a disaster and was quickly called off when the husband began to feel terrible about himself — and the wife became hostile.
This couple found out that agreeing just to agree doesn’t work. There are many variables that need to align in agreeing that allow both couples to feel good. In other words: You should believe in what you’re agreeing with!
Our society values being right over almost everything else, so how do we work with that? If one person feels they “won”, the other feels like a loser. Is that really how you want your partner to feel? Further, when we focus on our own happiness, we’re told that we are spoiled or selfish — which is far from the truth. When we give in and just say “Yes dear”, we feel dis-empowered.
Couples who have great relationships seem to have the ability to take the “bigger picture” into account when making decisions. They have the ability to make their partner’s needs and feelings as important as their own, and they experience joy when their partner is happy. These successful interactions increase the feelings of being loved and valued, making for even more happiness; it’s cyclical!
In our therapy practices, we’ve both seen relationships suffer, and sometimes fail, when couples get caught in the conflict of the disagreement. When conflict arises, it is important to focus on the emotional needs of you and your partner so you can take the conversation to a deeper, more productive level. Maybe the argument about buying a new car has nothing to do with the car. Maybe it has to do with your spouse’s ongoing feeling of being left out or unimportant to you. The bigger the reaction, the more likely it is that there are roots to similar disagreements.
Explore what some of the underlying issues are that get you caught up in while trying to being right or winning. If you can discuss these issues and work together on feeling important to each other, it may stop these destructive cycles from happening as you attempt to resolve normal issues that all relationships have.
What are some topics that you may disagree about? Many couples struggle with problems around money, how to spend time, sexual frequency, and just about everything related to parenting. Learning how to make joint decisions about these marital issues can be difficult: The goal is that both people come out of the conversation feeling respected and heard.
Most couples are unsure about how to have such conversations because they focus on the content versus the emotional needs of their partner during difficult conversations. This prevents people from reaching a resolution. It can also give couples the sense that they can’t resolve disagreements together, so they are more likely to make decisions independent of each other, which causes even more conflict.
Let’s explore an example of how this can happen for a couple. Often, one partner wants more children than his or her partner. The battle that ensues can often be tragic for the relationship. It’s important to find a way to be calm while truly listening to and honoring your partner’s concerns or feelings. It’s important to share the reasons for your opinion — while also letting your partner know that you thought about and understand his or her needs as well.
One person will probably talk about emotional benefits of their opinion while the other speaks of the logical benefits. Both emotional and logical reasoning are valid and need to be expressed without judgment, so that you can make the best decision for your family. You may not ever agree 100 percent (people rarely do!) but it is important that each partner feel their needs are taken into account and heard.
Another example relates to how couples deal with money. Quite often there are differences in how each partner spends, what they value, and how much debt they are comfortable with. The amount of money being spent is often relative because we’ve seen couples argue about a $100 handbag as well as a $10,000 bracelet. It usually comes down to whether or not each partner was included in the decision, and whether one partner feels that money spent on these items takes away from previously agreed-upon financial goals.
Let’s say one partner want to purchase a flat-screen television. You may be swooning over the idea while your spouse may not see the need to spend the money. How do you make the decision without either of you feeling slighted or disappointed? Couples sometimes need to look at the meaning behind their individual desires. Money has many emotional triggers that aren’t really about finances at all.
When a couple has a secure bond, they manage to compromise without feeling like only one consistently compromises. This is because, over the course of the relationship, both partners’ needs have been taken into account, and there is confidence that your needs will be met in other situations. As you begin to explore the emotional needs of your partner, you will begin to feel important to one another which could stop destructive cycles from erupting.
In the heat of the moment, relationships often feel like a volcano and as we know, volcanoes can erupt unexpectedly, destroying everything in their paths. Instead, learn to make the acts of connecting with and understanding your partner more important than being right — because our intimate relationship is the place in our life where we truly hope to feel safe, supported and valued.
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