Being Right or Being Close: It’s Your Choice

ntimate relationships require communication. Most couples understand this and put some effort into making an attempt. Unfortunately, most people do not think of their communication as a skill or consider that their skill can be developed and improved with practice. They tend to believe that their dialogue simply happens; indeed, that it should just happen naturally if it is honest and good communication.

[post-img]Most people think that, if our intention is sincere, then that should be enough. Most people also believe that what they say should be sufficient for clear communication to exist.

The truth is very different.

[tip-fact]Over and over, I find that what we say is not nearly as important as how we say it. Indeed, what we say and what we hear are highly conditioned by our largely predetermined and unconscious influences. This part of our mental life always affects the way we say what we say, as well as how we perceive, interpret, and ultimately hear what we are listening to.

I say all this to arrive at a very simple but profoundly important principle in the art of communicating. Namely, that you always have a choice before you when you interact with your partner.

You can be RIGHT or you can be CLOSE – but you rarely can be both at the same time.

[b-quote]If you are going to insist on your perceived RIGHTNESS in a discussion, then you are going to sacrifice most of the emotional or feeling of CLOSENESS that exists between the two of you. On the other hand, if you are going to emphasize the CLOSENESS you feel with each other, then you will often have to relax or even release your sense of RIGHTNESS.

For example, many couples I work with will begin to argue rather bitterly about the facts of a situation as they selectively remember it. This usually collapses into a fight about who said or did what and when or where it was done or said.

I call it “rewriting history.” Sometimes, the heat generated by these exchanges becomes so intense that the couple destroys any sense of their emotional bond. What they really need is utterly lost and the resulting hurt, disappointment, and anguish can be damaging.

This results because being RIGHT has replaced being CLOSE. Judgment has replaced understanding. Winning has replaced cooperation and building a solution through mutual consensus. The demand to be agreed with has replaced the need to feel understood.

On the other hand, when couples take some responsibility for what they think and feel and acknowledge their assumptions and needs, then trying to understand one’s partner and asking them to simply understand you replaces the insistence on RIGHTNESS and fosters an experience of CLOSENESS that leaves neither partner feeling wrong and both feeling right. The truth is I can understand you without necessarily having to always agree with you. And for most people, most of the time, feeling understood by the one they love is all they seek. Once this happens, most people usually relax and are much more open to working out a cooperative solution with their partner.

However, there are times when being RIGHT is a greater priority than being CLOSE.

If my partner is about to step in front of an oncoming bus, I’m going to scream at them to be careful. My tone of voice, their feelings, or our relational closeness is not going to be my first concern. I have information they do not have and I’m right about it. But I find these exchanges usually occur only in moments of immediate crisis and are therefore rare.

So if you want to build and improve your communication skills and dramatically increase the healthy emotional attachment between you and your partner, remember your choice:

You can either be RIGHT or you can be CLOSE.