What’s easiest to do is sometimes the worst thing to do.
Take getting on the wrong side of your partner. It’s surprisingly easy to do; all you have to do is be right, or think you are.
Being right is easy: None of us would intentionally put out there something dumb. Our minds might change on further thought or discussion, but in the immediate we’ll stand by what we think. But getting testy enough to argue even when we know we’re wrong has more to do with vulnerability — more accurately the perception of vulnerability – than with reality itself. In a relationship, perception is reason enough.
While it’s true that few of us would choose looking foolish – at work for instance – it’s romantic relationship that touches our core. It’s our fall-back, the default, the given. Since we’re invested emotionally, when we think our partner thinks badly of us we want to change his or her mind, so we argue.
So what is it about being right?
1. It’s threatening when you aren’t believed. Get ready to rumble. Not many of us like being doubted, especially if it replicates a know-it-all sibling or parent. Because of that unconscious link to the past, a reaction is automatic thinking that’s thought-out poorly. The strength of the reaction is a good indication of the perception of threat. My husband consistently leaves the scene emotionally (flight) most times I correct his actions in the kitchen; while saber-toothed tigers that look like his dad are now extinct, I bet he’d respond the same way if one showed up.
2. Acknowledgement is important. Ever feel totally helpless trying to convince your partner you really are right? Or that something that’s been attributed to you isn’t true? How much we’re willing to defend ourselves is proportional to the force with which we’re accused, as well as how satisfying it is to be right after all, both are behaviors modeled and learned in family of origin. Asking “What’s it to ya?” is reasonable for what is (and was) at stake is only cosmetically about the two of you.
3. It’s not about the relationship if it’s only about you. What’s missing in a selfie is that there’s only one person in it. Relationship isn’t a selfie, it’s a twosie so that anything that has to do with the marriage isn’t only one way or the other. It might be you have all the reasons in the world to defend your turf but having the playground to yourself isn’t very much fun. You can be too rational. It doesn’t matter if everyone else in the world takes your side, the person who matters most to you doesn’t. Relying on reason in an emotional situation is like comparing apples to oranges, only more crazy-making. Make no mistake: anyone who thinks actions/reactions in an intimate relationship aren’t about emotion ought to dis-enroll from the Mr. Spock School for Relationship Excellence.
Being in a permanent relationship is a whole new way of being, the best part of which is not having to be alone. It’s a no-brainer that togetherness doesn’t thrive on aloneness. It’s consequential that most couples I work with can’t remember what the argument that brought them to see me was about.
The next time you two argue, it’ll be worth it to wonder if any of these insights brings you to something more profound than who really was in charge of packing the sunscreen.
Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose specialty is couples work, especially with those whose relationships are impacted by visible or invisible disability. Married to David for almost 30 years, she’s grateful for the relationship lessons she continues to learn. They live in Colorado with two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy. Learn more about Kathe at www.coupleswhotalk.com and about the Couples Communication Workshops the Skinners offer throughout the year.
Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC