What Will You Give (up) For Valentines Day?
February is here with all the pink and red hearts in store windows. Walgreens has an entire aisle devoted to cards and chocolates and teddy bears. What will you give your partner this Valentine’s Day? Some special time together? Dinner out and flowers? What if you also offered them a generous gift that is completely free, deeply transformative, and only requires you to Stop doing something? Sound good?
I invite you to give up needing to be right.
‘I don’t do that,’ you may say to yourself, and maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s not a relational behavior you're susceptible to, yet it's one of five prevalent ‘losing strategies’ couple’s therapist Terry Real identifies in The New Rules of Marriage:
1. Needing to be right
2. Controlling your partner
3. Unbridled self-expression
Many of us have a primary and secondary tactic. When you practice any of these losing strategies you will seldom, if ever get the deep connection you long for in relationship. There's much to explore with each. In this post we will address, you guessed it, needing to be right.
Have you ever tried telling your partner about an emotional situation only to have them correct your facts or contradict you? How did you feel? Have you ever argued with what your partner said, feeling righteous, insisting on your perspective? You may be thinking ‘Shouldn’t I be sticking up for myself, and what I know to be true?’ Well the answer may actually be no, not at that moment. When your partner presents you with a story, the story is about them. Your job is to be the listener. Arguing with them is contradicting them, inviting them into a defensive stance.
What happens in your body when you are defending yourself? Do you get tense? What does your body do while trying to make a case for your ‘rightness’ with your partner? I find myself leaning forward, as if ready to jump, with a tightness in my chest and jaw. In general clients report their body experience as rigid or dense in some way. It’s a body ready for battle. A rigid body has limited capacity to receive. It is designed to defend. Defense is often the first act of war, so if we don’t want to be at war with our partner, we must choose to let down these defenses.
How to Unarm the Defense
What are the qualities of receptive listening? Relaxed and at ease. Flexible.
Lean back. Feel your back body. Notice your spine holding you upright effortlessly.
Take a breath deep into your lower belly.
Feel into your heart space and say the word ‘love’ or visualize a pink or golden light filling your chest. You can imagine opening your arms out to the sides and welcoming your partner.
What feels different in this posture? What are you capable of?
If your bodily awareness doesn’t make a strong case for stopping the ‘rightness’ compulsion, let’s consider how frequently this fact-checking strategy has actually worked.
How's that Working for You?
How often does it bring you closer to the kind of relationship you desire? For me, maybe 10% of the time. If your partner meditates or practices self-awareness then your averages might be higher. But let’s face it – these are terrible odds. If you had a bread recipe that only worked 10% of the time, would you keep baking it?
What’s so compelling about being ‘right’? It may be tied to our self-esteem. Many of us had the experience of being shamed as children when we didn’t know something. That part of us that was innocent and afraid now gets protected by another part that learned to fight for ‘being right’. But being right does not equate being happy. This strategy was one of an adaptive child or teen not old enough to create a healthy adult relationship. To evaluate our patterns as adults we can simply ask:
Is this behavior reflective of who I want to be and does it get me what I want?
Many people go their entire lives without asking themselves if their behavior is helping or hurting them and their loved ones. You can be different. You can consciously create your life and relationships with awareness and attention.
As a functional adult, how do you work a relationship? You think relationally and systematically. Be willing to move with humility, recognizing you cannot control your partner or the situation. You can however, change your own behavior.
Steps to Break the Need
So how do you break the habit of needing to be right? First, recognize that there is no place for objective reality in an intimate relationship. Instead there are two distinct realities, yours and your partner’s. Who’s right? Who cares? If one of you is right then the other one is wrong. Not a recipe for happiness.
Remember when you were first dating, and you wanted to know how this person thought, who they were? You were deeply curious about them. Time to revisit this stance. When they are talking, become interested in them as a distinct entity.
Everyone’s thinking makes sense to themselves. Their story is theirs. Do not take it personally. It may or may not have any truth about you in it. You get to determine that. Give them warm eye contact. Soften your body. Ask clarifying questions. Someone who feels misunderstood cannot hear what you have to say, so sharing your reality is appropriate only after completely demonstrating your understanding to your partner.
To break it down:
1. Remember you and your partner each have separate experiences (realities)
2. Remind yourself that your partner loves you, soften your heart area, and shift to curiosity
3. Take a deep belly breath and rest into your back
4. When your partner is speaking, focus completely on them and their story (do not plan your response)
Give them warm eye contact
Look for their best intent and the feeling behind their word
Share with them the main points you’ve heard of their best intent
Ask for clarification if you missed anything
Express appreciation or gratitude for their sharing
5. Only after your partner has felt completely heard, should you consider shifting into speaker mode. If you have a different experience of the same incident, first ask them if they are willing to hear about it. Resist the temptation to defend yourself, just state your feelings, motivations, and assumptions.
Daily communication in relationships has the potential to create the experience of union and peace or distance and frustration. Every little move you can make toward generosity and cherishing your partner is a lasting gift, box and red bow unnecessary. Flourishing relationships produce better physical health and happiness for both partners – ultimately a gift that returns to you every day of the year!