So many readers responded with positive comments and responses to my addressing the issue of frustrations when arguing, especially with family members, I think it deserves another review of both the difficulties and the solutions.
You might call it the "I'm right, you're wrong" game. No matter what the cost in frustration or hurt feelings, someone maintains that he or she is right and you are not.
Whether you are dealing with a friend, spouse, relative, or co-worker, this kind of win-lose interaction can damage the very core of a relationship because in this game someone has to end up being "wrong," and therefore the "loser."
No one wants to feel they are the "loser" because it is demeaning and humiliating. It is then difficult to avoid the frustration of not being heard or understood and consequently cultivating an accumulating build-up of resentment toward the "winner."
Sometimes, people fall into the right-wrong trap because they approach an issue or discussion in a black-and-white way. For example, a woman may say to her spouse, "You never buy me flowers!" He says, "I buy you flowers all the time!"
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: He does buy flowers once in a while, but she would like to get them more often, but her attacking words and his defensive ones are already setting them up to prove who's "right," rather than addressing what the real issue is.
Suppose that, during a party at her sister-in-law's home, Peg overhears her husband's sister Sally make an unkind remark. Later, Peg tells her husband about the comment and says, "Your sister is rude."
Bill responds by saying, "No, she isn't!" An argument follows, with both Peg and Bill trying to prove the "rightness" of their positions.
A simple observation about a comment snowballs into a fight over Sally's character. Being right about that issue becomes the most important point. The spouses end up feeling angry and unheard. If, however, both partners had approached the situation differently, the discussion might not have escalated into a fight.
Peg could have said "I think your sister was being rude." Bill could have responded, "I'm not sure she was being rude, but it seems to have upset you. Would you like to talk about it?" This might have kept the discussion more focused on the reason Sally's behavior disturbed Peg and avoided the right-wrong trap.
In any situation, at home or at work, if one person is always right, it implies that the other person is always wrong.
In fact, the words "always" and "never" usually come up in these arguments, fanning the emotional flames that throw each person into defensive irrationality. Maintaining this kind of absolute opinion doesn't leave much room for solutions. It is the exact opposite of helping relationships grow. The need to always be the "winner" and the "right" one erodes the quality of relationships because it destroys intimacy and trust.
There is no incentive for compromise or negotiation. Ultimately, the need to always be right pushes people away.
Interestingly, a couple whose relationship is filled with a lot of right-wrong thinking will get along best when they are threatened by someone or something outside of themselves. That is because it is the only time they can both be on the same side.
They can draw together against a common enemy. "We're right, they're wrong."
Ask yourself if you fight to be right, and if you are losing relationships, jobs, or opportunities because of it.
Then, ask yourself if you would rather be right — or happy! Breaking free of the endless cycle created by the right/wrong game will probably help you to feel better about yourself and to have more meaningful relationships.
If you do not spend all your energy and time proving you are right, you will probably have a lot more left for the pursuit of the enjoyment and fun relationships can bring.
Based in Rockport, life and relationship coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a former psychotherapist and university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, accelerate personal growth, achieve life and career goals. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com and through her website www.personalcoachsusanbritt.com.