I can vividly recall my childhood visits to my grandparent’s house in the small coastal town of Sea Girt, New Jersey. We’d arrive to the aroma of her homemade clam chowder simmering along with the hint of sweet vanilla lingering in the air as her creamy cheesecake cooled in the counter. There was art everywhere – on walls and tabletops – and especially in my grandfather’s commercial art studio, which always beckoned exploration. I would sit at his special drawing table perusing the rainbows of pastel sticks, the special eraser putty, foreign art tools and his practice sketches of faces and figures. There was always classical music playing on the stereo or, on occasion, a mini “concert” put on by my grandmother, who was a concert pianist. They were well traveled and they embraced many different cultures and things. It was cultural injection in so many ways. But there is one other thing I distinctly remember about them, and that’s the way they incessantly bickered.
My grandfather would say that he was “right/wrong” all of the time. By this he meant he could never be right in the eyes of his wife and, no matter what he chose to do or say, it was going to be wrong. My grandmother felt the same about him. Both always wanted to be right. As a child, I remember the heated disagreements that ensued over some very tasty meals. By the time we got to dessert, my neck hurt because it felt like I had watched a tennis match. Luckily, their love and humor (my grandfather was a major joker) carried them through a lifetime of love, marriage, and bickering. But in some relationships, bickering and the need to be right can be destructive and erosive.
Why is it that we always want to be right? I don’t know about you, but I catch myself all the time going one last round with my husband on a topic, trying to convince him that I was the “right” one. Our egos get in the way most of the time. I have found that the key lies in self-awareness. I can catch myself now, when I stop and take inventory, of why I am doing what I’m doing or saying what I’m saying. Often, it’s our way of feeling better about ourselves – for bad choices, unkind words, or actions. In all honesty, when I’m fighting the good fight to be right, I’m usually trying to justify actions or words I have regret for. Instead of fighting and trying to right my wrong with my argument, I would be better off (and so would the relationship) with a simple apology or admission of wrongdoing.
Another thing that I have learned in my long-term marriage, and in working with other couples during therapy, is that you both can be right. Sure, lots of decisions or actions are black and white, but there are tons of gray areas and times where, if you listen and stop trying to be right, your partner may have a point to consider or a new perspective that you hadn’t thought of. Listen to one another. Honor each other’s opinions. Respect your differences and seek a middle ground. No one person has to be right.
Most of the time, when I have had some distance from a point of contention, I cannot fathom why I had such an issue with something in the first place. Was it really important that he didn’t tell me about an event and claimed he did? Was it really life shattering that I let the kids do something he didn’t approve of? If we invested less effort in fighting to be right, and more into seeing our partner’s perspective or analyzing our own motives first, relationships would be more peaceful.
Back to my grandparents… I don’t know how they did it… bickering all those years and remaining happily married and in love. Maybe it’s because sometimes my grandfather would just wink at us, muttering under his breath (out of her earshot) that he was the victor. Or maybe because he often uttered those magic words that we all love to hear. “Yes, Dear.”