I don’t want to be right. I just want us to understand one another, I said softly and sincerely, tilting my head to one side. But you are right, he said right back. It doesn’t matter who is right, I pleaded. Just that we listen and move forward from a place understanding. Something had come over me. Like a calm. Like a wave. Peacefulness.
What is this weird foreign feeling? I wondered.
The next day in yoga the same peaceful wave washed over me. In a zenned out epiphany, I concluded that disagreements needn’t become full-blown, relationship-halting arguments. Especially if you give up being right. I remembered one of many arguments I had with my ex-boyfriend. He said he would meet me after a Christmas party but never came. I called. He didn’t answer. I called again. Nada. More than an hour passed. I called a few more times. Nothing. Ten tequilas later, we talked. He said I was crazy, and I said he was an asshole. He said he wasn’t coming. You never were coming, I yelled. I can’t be by my phone all the time waiting for your every call, he said. But you can be when you are supposed to come meet me almost two hours ago, I shouted. I was busy! he said back. That’s what he always said back. He was never that busy.
Or maybe he was.
In that argument, I was right five times. He should have called me. He should have had his phone with him. He should have left the party earlier. He shouldn’t have cancelled our plans without telling me. He wasn’t that busy. Oh, and he was an asshole for all of the above. So six times. I was right six glorious five times. And because I was right and he was right (I had too high of expectations for him. He shouldn’t have to call if he is at a party. He never promised he was coming. I was crazy.) our ubiquitous arguments went in circles. My favorite four words became: I told you so. His: You are being insane. It would have been humorous if it weren’t blatantly damaging self-destruction. In hindsight, we made deliberate choices to make the other person wrong.
This went on for two years.
Walls went up. Rules bounded us. So many conversations could spark an argument because in every single aspect of our communication one person had to be right and the other person wrong. Restrictions multiplied. I couldn’t say this. He couldn’t mention that. Doors slammed. Painstaking silence. Even with things we agreed about! The tone or the inflection or the context made the other person just feel wrong. But then feel right. Self-righteousness clashed with defensiveness so often that eventually every conversation became argument. It was brutal. Exhausting. Nauseating.
I lost my fucking mind.
After a full year of reflection, I decided to do things differently the next time I fell in love. So late one Thursday night, I sat calmly on the couch looking at my handsome, thoughtful boyfriend. I listened to him deliberately and clearly state his feelings. No, he was not void of emotion (never!), but his explanation came from a different place. As it turned out, he also didn’t care to be right. He wanted me to understand. He wanted to understand me. We are two people who have only known one another for a few months; we still have some things to figure out. So when I said it the third time, I am serious. It isn’t about being right. I meant it. I actually meant it. And I didn’t just mean it in that moment; I meant it for always.
Something had shifted.
It was about damn time. Sure disagreements can become arguments because he’s Italian and passionate and I’m Italian and passionate. But more because we lived entire lives before we met one another. We have different experiences and have learned different things. Neither path is right or wrong. For the first time in a relationship, I am mostly interested in learning how he came to his feeling or belief or conclusion. Rather than rehearsing my rebuttal, I listen. I listen because I trust that he will reciprocate, and we will reach an understanding. With this common goal, we are able to reach a middle ground.
Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?
I spent more than two decades trying to be right. Then twenty minutes into an argument (our first real argument I might add) with this incredibly intuitive man, I gave it up. Maybe it was the love. Maybe it was the wine. Or maybe that wave of calm that washed over me that night – that was actually trust and respect. And the basis for creating the world’s most beautiful kind of love.
Photo via The Classy Issue.