Justin had a strong tendency to insist on being right—about everything. This did have some advantages. How does the world know, for example, which of all the swirling opinions in the media are right? Ask Justin. I did finally get across to Justin that his need to be right was destroying his peace of mind and his marriage.
“But what if I AM right?” he quickly retorted.
“And my question,” I said, “is how in the world would you ever know? How would you know if you really were right or not? Since you begin with the premise in your mind that you’re right, you don’t listen to anybody else, so how would you learn anything but what you already believe—even though it may not be right?”
I asked his wife Marlee to give me an example of Justin’s being right. She said that just the night before he had gotten angry at her—which we had all agreed was WRONG, not right—including cursing at her.
Before Marlee could quite finish her sentence, Justin said, “I did NOT use any curse words!!”
“How do you know that for sure?” I asked.
“I was there,” he said. “I should know.”
“Marlee was there too,” I said, “and she is just as certain that you DID curse her—if not more so. Sounds like an impasse, doesn’t it? ‘He said, she said?’ Almost sounds like there’s no way to know for sure who is right, doesn’t it?”
You would think they could at least agree on such an obvious statement, but no, they began to argue again.
“It turns out,” I said, “that there are some fairly reliable signs for discovering the truth, even in the absence of what some people might call ‘proof.’”
“Like what?” Justin asked.
“First,” I said, “previous experience. I’ve watched you two argue about a number of subjects, and in nearly every case, Justin, you elevate your volume and aggression of communication to the point that Marlee backs down. And you commonly use language that would qualify as ‘cursing,’ even though after things have calmed down you have vehemently denied using the language I just heard with my own ears.”
Justin wasn’t entirely thrilled to hear this but I continued: “Second, because of pain the perceptions two people have of a single event can be markedly different. Let's suppose that you and I are both digging the same hole or ditch in the mud. At some point, the distance between us closes, and you throw a shovel full of mud in my face and hit me with the shovel. This has quite a memorable effect on me, while you barely notice it. You might not even know you did it.”
“I get your attention and tell you that you hit me with the shovel, but you vehemently deny it. Now, here's the question. Who is most likely to be right, me or you? ME. Why? Because I FELT it more. And I have a cut on my forehead and mud all over my face. And I have very little reason to make up such an event, while you would have lots of reasons to deny it—since hitting people with shovels and throwing mud on them would universally not be considered to be acts of kindness.”
“Well, I did get pretty angry,” he admitted.
“I’m sure you did.”
“And I remember using some words that I wouldn’t use with the kids.”
“Keeping in mind that we minimize the unloving things we do, now can you see how it’s possible that you might have cursed at Marlee?”
Justin sighed and smiled. “Yeah, it’s possible.”
“Perfect. Are you willing to just say, ‘When I use curse words, I minimize them, so it’s likely that I did curse at Marlee.’?”
“Yeah, makes sense.”
“Outstanding. Now let’s make this generally useful. If she ever tells you in the future that you’re cursing or angry or unloving, can you just assume that she is RIGHT and then decide whether you want to continue being unloving?”
There was a long pause. “Yeah, I don’t see any other way out of my habit of being angry and right.”
“Me either,” I said.
“And how about if she does the same for me? Meaning, if I tell her she’s getting angry, she just assumes it’s true, instead of arguing about it.”
“Sounds reasonable to me,” I said. “You may not see it yet, but BOTH of you provide for the other partner an opportunity to have unloving behavior observed RIGHT THEN—while it’s hampering. Most of us don’t have that. As we describe events and behavior later, we’re always affected by the markedly distorting effects of memory. So be grateful you have a partner, to support you not only when things are going beautifully but when you need the observation that you’re NOT being loving. Such observations are one of the greater benefits of having a partner, much like having a relationship coach living with you all the time.”
- Listen to your partner. That’s how partnership develops.
- If your partner tells you that you’re being unloving, LISTEN. What an opportunity to learn.
- Always, always remember that love and happiness are far more important than being right about a particular memory or behavior.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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