“I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
Roald Dahl’s quote survives precisely because it is a classic from childhood. As a child, being right is equal to being powerful and being small too often equates to be being wrong and helpless. The right/wrong debate is at the heart of the power struggle in most marriages. “You’re wrong” is the weapon of choice, prompting the one hearing those words to get defensive and strike back. To heal conflict one needs to understand that right and wrong are not the issue. There are no facts to be disputed. There are as many realities as there are people in a room. In a relationship the struggle to be right and have your partner wrong is a power play. Why do we engage in such a struggle with the person we love? It’s what our parents taught us is the easy answer. From them we learned that might equals right or right equals might. The more complex answer is that we have not been taught empathy.
A colleague of mine once said: “It’s not that people don’t know how to communicate, they don’t know how to listen.” I worked with a couple recently and invited each to talk about the things that caused tension in the relationship. The partner kept answering “Oh no, that’s not a problem,” dismissing the speaker’s concerns. I found myself repeating, “If it’s a problem for your partner, it’s a problem.” Holding one another’s perspective is challenging. I know, as I try to hold two partners’ perspectives besides my own in a therapy session.
We all find it difficult to view the world from someone else’s perspective. We don’t take the time to listen as we are busy formulating our responses. Being only interested in what we have to add to the conversation. It is only when we take the right/wrong out of the equation, truly listen and attempt to see the other’s point of view that the power struggle will cease and love can flourish. Remove right and wrong and conflict ceases. Honor the other person’s perspective and instead of escalating conflict, you will have safety. And with safety comes passion and true intimacy.