Tensions within relationships: being right or being loved

It’s tough sometimes finding yourself in an argument and having to make the decision to either prove someone wrong and wining or not. It could be over something really insignificant like a debate over what you ordered for dinner last time you went out. You may recall the experience of winning such an argument and that doing so often comes at the expense of killing the love between yourself and other.

The alternative option in such circumstances is surrendering and not putting your partner to the metaphorical sword when you have the power to do so and keeping the love alive. In couples therapy sessions I regularly witness couples attacking each other and I see such interrogations over trying to establish the truth as a fight for dominance over being right and wanting to be be morally one up on the other.

When in comes to contentious issues between couples, I think it’s helpful to think of love and power as co-existing on a continuum and at any point in time you can be down one end or the other. The thing is according to this way of thinking you can’t have or experience both at the same time. You can’t experience love when you are exerting your power and control over someone and you can’t experience power and control when you are totally heart open and being so present to other and experiencing love.

People generally have a lot vested at times at being right particularly when it comes to decisions made on behalf of us or times when we made decisions to appease others against our better judgement. When someone makes a decision that impacts on us that ended up not working it’s easy to feel disappointed, hurt, angry that your point of view or preference was not chosen and it’s too easy to fall back to the ”I told you so” or “why the hell did you do that?”. It’s during such times that I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves, “do you want to be right or do you want to be loved?”. Opening to the love option means opening to being, compassionate, understanding and letting go of any idea of being “one up” on others.

Another dynamic that works in conjunction with power and love is adequacy and inadequacy. These concepts can also be thought of as existing on a continuum. When we are identified or think or ourselves as being very adequate the extreme end of adequacy (“I’m so; good, successful, clever, bright ”) lands on others as arrogance. From my experience when people are so stuck in seeing themselves as adequate they are predisposed to seeing the faults and limitations of others.

People may over identify with adequacy to overcompensate for their own inadequacies or things they don’t do well and don’t want others to know, they don’t do well. This may occur because of the degree of shame or guilt around things that they don’t do well and so the best way keep others away from noticing what they don’t do well is to attack and shame them and to inflate and use their own strengths to get one up on their perceived opponents. This often ends up in entrenched positions with both parties holding the line and facing off against each other wanting or waiting for the other to give in and admit defeat.

If you can identify someone in your life or even yourself as doing this you will know how draining it is to continually being driven to find limitations in others, to critique, complain and prove yourself to be better, stronger, richer or morally superior to others. Opening to the possibility that arrogance serves the purpose of protecting us from our own inadequacies can lead to a break through. For instance some people are very mentally identified and good at arguing things through logically. They may rely upon this way of being at the expense of demonstrating more emotional intelligence because they are not good at speaking about their own emotional spectrum and may have some shame about not being competent and fluent with emotional literacy.

Maintaining an Individual focus on one partner during couples therapy can be helpful when couples are struggling through conversations around points of difference and find themselves winning the argument but missing the opportunity to meet and understand what their partner needs most. Coming to terms with what we don’t do well and protect against from others getting some insight into this dynamic may create some acceptance of ourselves as people with strengths and limitations. Doing so may increase our ability to choose how to respond to others rather than feeling compelled to react. This reaction is often a knee jerk reaction and land on others as an attack and an abuse of power.

It’s very difficult at times to know what’s driving us when we are trying to sort something out with our partners and all we know is that we are right and our partners are wrong. When we experience these tensions within relationships, having a skilled facilitator to assist create some space around how we engage and make decisions can make the world of difference to how we are with each other.

Chris Caruana (B.A., MCoun, NZAC)
Couples Counsellor
271 Kepa Rd, Mission Bay,
Auckland 1071, New Zealand
027 3187593