So many of the struggles of the couples I work with revolve around one or the other’s need to always be right, to hold on tight to ideas, beliefs or perceptions as if their lives depend upon it.
While possibly protecting us from our own self-doubt and uncertainty, this need to always be right “calcifies” our ability to listen well, to be flexible and open-minded, and makes us a lot less fun to be around to boot…. And by regularly dismissing our partner’s ideas and feelings, we are also inadvertently poisoning our relationship.
It is not hard to grasp that this aversion to being wrong:
- interferes with healthy communication and shared decision-making;
- undermines trust by making it unsafe to express one’s real thoughts and feelings (as they will inevitably be knocked down);
- alienates the other person;
- hinders intimacy by repeatedly missing opportunities to get to know one’s partner and how s/he ticks;
- attacks the other’s self-confidence and self-esteem;
- negates any semblance of equality or partnership in the relationship.
In her 2011 book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, author Kathryn Schulz speaks eloquently to this point. We continue to reinforce our own rightness, says Schulz, by assuming that anyone who doesn’t believe as we do is simply ignorant; had they the facts we had, it would be obvious to them that we are right. Their unwillingness to change their views when we offer them facts is further validation that they are simply idiots for not recognizing our rightness.
Schulz also notes that we miss out on so much experience when we reject anything that doesn’t fit into our perception of the world or our perception of ourselves. “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is — but that you can see the world as it isn’t.”
In an engaging TEDTalk that went viral in 2011, Schulz suggests that “if you really want to rediscover wonder at the vastness and the complexity and the mystery of the universe, you need to step outside of that tiny, terrifying space of rightness, and look out at each other and be able to say, ‘Wow, I don’t know…. Maybe I’m wrong.’”