When someone feels that he or she always has to be right, you can bet that there’s trouble ahead in the relationship arena. It doesn’t take a fortune teller with a crystal ball to predict the future when a person is determined to win every argument or disagreement at any cost.
Always having to be right is damaging to relationships because it interferes with healthy communication, shared decision-making, and trust. It is destructive to the self-esteem and self-confidence of the other individual, as well as preventing equality in the relationship.
There is a much-quoted question that asks, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” The implication is that you cannot be focused on being right and also have happy relationships with others.
Having to be right alienates the other person. And there’s certainly truth in Jules Renard’s advice that “If you are afraid of being lonely, don’t try to be right.”
Good communication is dependent on both people feeling safe to express their individual viewpoints without being criticized or put down. If one person belittles the other one, or shows disrespect for his or her opinions, meaningful communication will not be possible.
Healthy communication is a two-way process. It involves the ability to listen to someone without interrupting them or telling them they are wrong. When people have good communication skills, they can listen to each other and show respect for the viewpoints expressed, even when they strongly disagree.
According to Epictetus, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” By listening intently and having a sense of curiosity, you can remain open to the other person while continuing to learn more about him (or her).
But first you have to realize that you do not have all the right answers to everything. No one does. According to Lord David Cecil, “The first step to knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.”
It is arrogant for an individual to think that his (or her) opinions are always the right ones. It is arrogant to think that there is no value in listening to others and opening up to new viewpoints and approaches. It is arrogant to put others down because they differ in how they think.
You are showing others your own limitations and insecurities if you demand that they admit you are right and they are wrong. “When you judge others, you do not define them; you define yourself,” observed Earl Nightingale.
One of the marks of intelligence is to know what you do not know and to realize that there is always more to be learned. One of the marks of emotional maturity is to be able to admit when you are wrong, don’t have all the answers, or need to apologize. It has been said that the five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship are, “I apologize,” and “You are right.”
Trust and intimacy cannot develop when you are focused on winning each argument and proving the other person wrong. If there are healthy relationship boundaries, both individuals can feel safe to express their real feelings and thoughts. It’s certainly possible to disagree without being disagreeable and without requiring that the other person admit you are right.
By using good communication skills, you can increase your understanding of why the other person feels as he or she does. By demonstrating respect for their viewpoints, you deepen the trust in the relationship. By letting go of your need to always be right or “win,” you greatly increase your chances of creating and sustaining a satisfying relationship.
The following quotation by an unknown author captures the importance of tolerance in a relationship: “The most lovable quality any human being can possess is tolerance. It is the vision that enables one to see things from another’s viewpoint. It is the generosity that concedes to others the right to their own peculiarities. It is the bigness that enables us to let people be happy in their own way.”
The person who can give heartfelt respect and tolerance to others is able to create win-win relationships where communication and trust can grow safely and freely. If you want to be happy, release the struggle and tension over who’s right and focus on what’s most important—deepening the feelings of connection, trust, and satisfaction in your relationships.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-creator of Overcome Control Conflict with Your Spouse or Partner, available at www.ControllingSpouse.com. She is also co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" which is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, as well as a free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples who want to overcome relationship problems and create a rewarding, loving partnership.