One of the certain things in life is that there will be ‘difference’. There is much to celebrate of course, about difference, for example: different cultures, different traditions, different talents and strengths, different personality types… Difference makes for a colourful world. How dull if everything was the same!
There is however, one area of difference that can be the cause of conflict in many relationships, and that is difference of opinion.
In what ways can our opinions cause friction or arguments?
Different opinions are normal and healthy. Many people would agree with that. Others would say: ‘yes, but…’ and behind the ‘but’ would be the thought : ‘…as long as my opinion wins.’
I guess there is a human tendency to want to be right. After all, why would we have the opinion we have, if we didn’t believe we were right?
There are some things that we may not have a strong opinion or preference about, and these are less likely to cause friction or arguments. But the more rigid and entrenched our belief, the more we generally feel the need to be right and ‘win’!
Arguing with your partner isn’t a sign you’re not meant to be together — check out out blog on best ways of managing disagreements.
Where does the ‘need to be right’ come from?
We may not realise that a ‘need to be right’ is part of the way we communicate. The strange thing is that we may not always know why we believe what we do. It may be a belief or opinion that was held as important in our childhood family, and we have taken it on board without considering whether or not we agree with it, but we will firmly defend it.
Are there areas where ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers matter?
In many scenarios of conflicting opinions, it is not a question of one being right, and one having to be wrong; for example: whether money is spent on a new sofa, or put towards a holiday. Different people have their own reasons and priorities that would influence their choice.
There are of course, some situations where there is only one right answer. If I am adding up 6 and 5, there is only one right answer.
But there are many instances where there is no single answer that has the monopoly on truth.
Who is ‘right’?
Imagine this picture, person 1 is standing in front of a house, and looking out across the road. What that person sees is a row of buildings. Person 2 is standing at a window looking out. The view for that person is trees. When they are talking about the view from the house, person 1 describes the view as buildings, and person 2 describes the view from the house as woodland.
In fact, they are both right, neither is wrong. They are both describing the view from their own standpoint. They have merely seen a different aspect of the same subject.
How do we develop different perspectives?
We tend to see things from the perspectives our own life has given us, which are legitimate. Others see things from the perspective life has given them. These are equally legitimate. For example, if someone grows up in a family where academic achievement is extremely important, they may, in adulthood, invest a lot of energy in striving to achieve. Another person who grew up in the same environment may decide that other goals in life are more important and invest energy in other things.
In the issues that commonly cause conflict in relationships there is almost always more than one way to look at things, and truth is not restricted to one black and white answer. How simple life would be if it were! Different aspects of the same thing are important to different people.
How can ‘the need to be right’ affect relationships?
Having to be right, has a very destructive effect on relationships, shutting down communication. It creates a barrier, because the message the other person receives is that their opinion, and ultimately they themselves, are of no value. It also generally diminishes the respect others have for us.
What’s a helpful way of communicating when one — or both of us — hold strong opinions?
It is helpful to hold in our mind the equal value of the other and to communicate in a way that will convey that value. One way we can do that is to show interest in the other person’s opinion and seek to understand why they hold that opinion. For example ask:
- Tell me more about …
- What is it about … that is important to you?
- I’d like to understand why you feel so passionately about … please tell me more.
Then listen without interrupting or seeking to defend your own opinion in that moment. Hold back sharing until your partner feels understood.
Spend time trying to fully understand your partner’s viewpoint by ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ and checking your understanding by reflecting back what you’ve heard. You might ask:
- What you’re saying is… Have I understood you correctly?
In doing so, we may gain a broader understanding of the issue, and a greater understanding of each other – both of which benefit our relationships and encourage communication.
What’s the most important thing for me?
Is it more important to me, to be right at all costs, in which case I might bear the cost in my relationship?
Or, is it more important to prioritise my relationship, and let go of the need to always be right?
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