Would you rather be right or have the relationship?

 Getting off it

Unless it’s clearly and undeniably against the law, there is no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to an argument within a relationship.  What’s true is that each party has a position—a “stand” about what is right and what is wrong.  Think of it literally as a spot on the floor—like stage marking tape—from which you are unwilling to budge.

We like to use this illustration: suppose someone in your household spilled a pitcher of grape juice—sticky, staining grape juice—all over your white carpet.  Would you be more concerned about who did it, and how bad and wrong that person was for spilling it, or would you concentrate your energy more on cleaning up the mess?  

Put another way: are you more interested in “being right,” or are you more interested in solving the problem and enjoying a harmonious relationship?

If, like many of us, being right is more important to you than your relationship, then by all means, fight to the death (of the relationship) to be right.  But, if you cherish your relationship, we hope we can convince you to move off your position in order to keep it.  “Get off it.”  Don’t end up alone, in the prime of your life, because you insisted on being right.

Would you be willing to give up everything you have in exchange for everything you’ve ever wanted?

But what if she really IS wrong.  You’ve even discussed it with your buddies and they all agree with you.

Again, it depends on what you want.  Always ask yourself, “Would I rather be right, or would I rather have the relationship?”  

There’s no right or wrong answer.  Just be honest.  What do you want?  What are you committed to?  It’s all up to you.  

This isn’t a game. We’re talking about human life and feelings here.  We’re talking about family.  Choose.  Be right at the risk of the relationship, or have the relationship.

A wise man once said, “The truth shall set you free—but first it will really tick you off.”

Even though our intellect knows that our marriage is far more important than “being right,” there are plenty of people who will choose the latter.  You can usually find them hanging out with their “band of thieves”—others who enjoy being right.  You can find them playing poker with the guys, or at a whole slew of singles events, or they’re in bars, watching sports at home, in pet shops, eating dinner—alone—in a restaurant, joining health clubs, etc.  And all of them have a very convincing story about why their marriages ended and how bad and wrong their ex was. 

Now we’re going to give you a little test to see how well you grasped this concept.  Ready?  The test answers are below. *

  1. Let’s say you and your spouse are both “on a position” about something.  You say “yes,” and she says “no.”  What do you do?  (Hint: remember, it’s always up to you to produce the result.  It is NEVER up to the other person.)
  2. Let’s say you’re “on a position” about something, but miraculously, your spouse is not.  What do you do?
  3. Let’s say your spouse is “on a position,” and miraculously, you are not.  What do you do?

Struggle with this a little before checking the answers.  You may be surprised!

*Answers to quiz: 

  1. You have to get off it.
  2. You have to get off it.
  3. You have to get off it… more!!!  

A true story.

We were once discussing this topic during a lecture, and a volunteer came forward to help us illustrate our point.  The audience giggled as soon as they saw who the volunteer was, because everyone in the room knew that she and her husband had been arguing for a very long time about whether or not they should get a pet.  

This didn’t seem like such a big problem to us, until we found out that they already had three pets, and the husband had made huge concessions regarding them, since he hadn’t wanted any pets in the first place.  

We always speak to the “no” first, so we asked the husband if he understood the concept of choosing between being right and having the relationship.  He said he did.  We paused and asked him if he would rather be right or have the relationship.  To his credit, he thought about this for a very long time while the room sat silent.  Finally, he concluded that he would rather have the relationship. 

We waited for several seconds while his words settled in.  Then we asked if he was simply giving us the right answer or if he really did—down to his bone marrow—want to give up being right in favor of the relationship.

You could hear a pin drop.  As he stood considering our question, his body language and his facial expression demonstrated how deeply engaged he was in sorting out his answer.

Finally he confirmed that he wanted the relationship—that he would give up being right to save his relationship.  “OK, she can have her pet,” he declared.  

Everyone in the room gasped. This argument had been going on for five years.  Everyone in the neighborhood had weighed in or it, but so far, no one had successfully brought the couple to anything resembling an agreement.

We turned to the wife, “Congratulations!  What kind of pet are you going to get?”

Then the most magical thing happened.  She let in the magnitude of what her husband had just said.  She paused for about 60 seconds, deep in thought.

When she opened her mouth to speak, she surprised all of us.  “You’re not going to believe this,” she said, “but I just realized that I don’t really need another pet!”

What happened?

Here is how we explain it.  

  1. For the first time, she was “heard.”  Her husband “got her,” “re-created” her.
  2. Her husband “got off it.”  He realized it was up to him, NEVER the other person, and he stepped off his position.
  3. By getting off his position, he created space for her and her position.  She no longer felt the pressure from him to abandon her position.  She no longer felt defensive about winning or losing.  Now she had some breathing room in which to consider the pros and cons of her decision.
  4. Once “winning or losing” was removed from the equation, she saw more clearly what was at stake.  The “electrical charge” fell away from the argument, and the question became simply, “If he could be big enough to say ‘yes’ to a pet, can I be big enough to say ‘no?’”

Both were returned to the importance of the relationship.  After all, what difference did it really make if there was one more pet or not?

Wouldn’t it be all right to have another pet if it meant having her completely?

What did she need another pet for anyway when she now had her husband?

You see, it never really was about the pet.  IT WAS ALWAYS ABOUT “WINNING” and “BEING RIGHT!”

As soon as one got off it, so did the other.

Most people think arguments are bad.  It’s true that people can get lost in their arguments; they can allow the argument to interfere with their deeper desire to be in relationship with one another.  However, it’s also true that an argument can be an opportunity to get closer, to work through the issue and choose the relationship.

Even while we encourage you always to “get off it,” we realize that this is a lot harder than it sounds.  If you simply cannot get off it, yet you know that what you want most is the relationship, just communicate this to your spouse, and then PRETEND to get off it. 

“Fake it ‘til you make it.”  You will get there eventually.  It just takes time and practice.

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