Right Versus Smart
You’re waiting at the corner of Michigan and Huron, meeting your partner for lunch. Ten minutes have passed, fifteen…twenty minutes and no call, no text — nothing. She arrives after thirty minutes — cool calm and collected. Seeing the vexed look on your face, she asks what’s wrong. And within moments, you’re locked in a debate over the original plans, back and forth in a verbal tug-of-war over what time you’d agreed to rendez-vous. Each of you remembers it differently; each of you digs in your heels; each of you wants to Be Right.
It happens all the time with our partner: the wish to win the argument, to Be Right, without regard for collateral damage. But too often, my personal “win” becomes a “loss” for us. Despite my victory, we’re feeling disconnected, no closer than when the argument began.
The alternative? Choosing to Be Smart instead of Right — putting We above Me. Being Smart means keeping the welfare of the relationship in mind and asking myself, during an argument, what it might take to reach partnership harmony. (It’s almost never the pursuit of winning.)
Couples research has found that relationships are stronger when partners commit more often to the relationship than to their own immediate needs.* We all like to Be Right, but pursuing that path often means abandoning the partnership, the two of us together, and turns what should be a team sport into an individual event.
(You may have a partner whose style isn’t to push back and challenge you, which makes it easy to indulge the impulse to Be Right. But doing so may be just as harmful to the relationship — and you just don’t know it. Stay aware of those Being Right versus Being Smart moments even though you don’t customarily find yourselves in a tug-of-war.)
Here are some ways to go about Being Smart:
- Let go of the rope once you sense the tug-of-war taking hold. Remind yourself that it’s an empty victory if you win the battle but lose the war.
- Consider saying, “We see this differently, and let’s be okay with that. Let’s agree to disagree. How can we now move forward?”
- If your partner feels injured (hurt, disappointed, upset) by something you said or did, tend that injury first by offering compassion, care, and understanding.
- Listen for your partner’s emotions. Reflect them back compassionately. (“You’re frustrated and unhappy that I kept you waiting at this corner. I can understand that.”)
- Consider (or ask) what’s needed to move forward together. If it’s an apology, take the high road and offer one, regardless of who’s at fault. (“I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”)
- Catch yourself being seduced by the desire to Be Right. It’s just the tempting call of the ego at play. Resist it when you can.
*Schoebi, Dominik, et al. “Stability and change in the first 10 years of marriage: Does commitment confer benefits beyond the effects of satisfaction?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1037/a0026290.å