When “Right” is WRONG…
Does this sound familiar?
You approach your partner to tell them about something that upsets you. You start talking, but then of all the sudden your partner jumps in…
“Wait, that isn’t right! That isn’t how it happened!”
Or “No you’re remembering wrong!”
Then before you know it, you’re going around and round about the details and time line. Once the conversation devolves, the whole issue you started with gets lost; the vulnerability you were hoping to share gets destroyed by “right”.
When couples find themselves in this negative communication cycle, the conversation often ends with one or both partners shutting down or storming off.
Why do these unpleasant cycles happen? Well, because the part of your brain that protects you learns to hold onto certain “Truths” to better protect you next time. Yet, those same “truths” only aid in further breaking down communication and connection. If couples stay in this destructive pattern, they won’t thrive– even if they tough it out and stay together.
So what happened here? Isn’t the order of what happened or what was exactly said important in the couples discussion? Isn’t it important to hash it out until you get to the real “Truth”?
Short answer…nope. In any relationship there has to be room for emotions. This means listening to how your partner’s emotional brain remembers what happened, even when it is different than your memory.
Maybe you are wondering how you can listen to your partner’s feelings when they have it so wrong? If they would just remember the “right” events then the hurt would go away…so aren’t you being helpful by jumping in and correcting them?
The answer is “no” again. This is important because of one of the fundamentals truths about couples: that each partner is both right and wrong. What this means is, much goes into how you see, experience and remember events in your world; from your temperament, family of origin, relationship history, etc.
The fact is none of us are unemotional bystanders in the interaction with our partner; so “right” becomes relative.
When we focus on your “right” you miss seeing your partner. You miss making a connection and instead create disconnection, which makes “right” a very lonely place to be.
How do you change this toxic communication trap? Here are a few small steps to try
1. Listen without interrupting. Only pause to recap when your head feels full.
2. Summarize what your partner shared instead of responding with your own point of view.
3. Check for accuracy; ask if your summary captured the main points, if not ask your partner to repeat what you missed.
4. Empathy; use an emotional adjective to connect your understanding to your partner’s feelings.
5. Ask if your partner would be open to hearing how your experience was different.
6. Ask if your partner would use the same steps to hear you.
These first steps are simple, powerful and effective, but they are not always easy. If you would like to learn more, please contact us for a free consultation or the dates of our upcoming communication workshop.
Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.