“Should we talk about the sweater?”
Turning to me, mocking guilt, “I spent $35.00 dollars on a sweater.”
He too looked to me, then back at her, baffled. “Are you mad at me? You agreed to the budget. Remember?”
“Sweater was on sale.”
“That’s not the point.”
This was my cue, “What is? The point.”
“That we agreed to a budget.”
Confirming. “So not it’s cost, but it’s purchase?”
“Yeah, but after she’d agreed to the budget.” Martin turned to Jen, baffled, “I don’t believe you can’t see this.”
“Thirty five dollars!” She told him.
“It seems like you are mad at him though.” What it really seemed like was justifying having disregarded their agreement. That, or entitlement.
“It’s so simple,” Martin resigned.
It Feels Good Being Right—Not Really
Although nobody feels good being told they’re wrong, it’s not always a walk in the park for the one who’s right.
Because what if being right had to do with a partner’s excessive drinking, depression, aggressive behavior, parenting, or finances? It’s not really about whether you’re right, but the damage your partner’s perceived “rightness” is causing you and the relationship.
Are they really not seeing the behavior, or just pretending not to?
If you’re sensing something, likely there’s something there. Our brains have things called mirror neurons so we can internally simulate and repeat actions we observe with others. Also called, empathy, this responsive interplay, enables us to read the intentions behind another’s actions.
This comes in handy when our survival depends on whether another is being deceitful. If the words or actions of our partner don’t match with our internal simulation of them, we can’t integrate them, and sorta glitch. Or second guess whether our partner is lying, in denial themselves, or has a screw loose.
Why take action?
Imagine if the roles were reversed. You’ve switched medications. You believe you’re fine. But your partner sees differently. You’ve been tired more. Your mood has sharpened. You’ve been agitated.
Wouldn’t you want them to step in, take action?
Let’s say you’re having back problems, but you’re taking 4 Vicodin a day instead of 3. It’s just something you’ve been doing. I get it—it’s fun, your thing, and nobody’s business. But occasionally you’ll take 5—even 6 here and there. You don’t think it’s noticeable or affecting those around you. But what if it were? Maybe your partner is blowing it out of proportion, is judging, doesn’t get it—because they’re different. And you know yourself better than they do.
Consider the Messages You’re Sending
What you’re saying to your partner is I don’t listen to you, I think you’re only concerned about my health to make a point, I don’t believe you really care about me.
What they hear is: I don’t care about you enough to consider the effects my deteriorating health could have on you.
But what you’re saying to yourself is: I picked a partner I wouldn’t listen to, can’t trust, don’t respect, can’t be open with.
If your partner’s right, and you’re wrong. Who’s really better off?
The mortician, druggist, or liquor store owner maybe.
But not your partner. And certainly not you.
Having someone call you on your behaviors isn’t necessarily bad.
Obviously, you need to be able to trust their opinions. However, what might not be so obvious is whether you’re honestly willing to trust their opinion, or hiding your vulnerability from it.
Remember, it’s not just a risk to call a partner on their wrongs, but also a measure of love. After all, you probably chose them for good reason.
But What if They Still Won’t Listen?
Being right is never easy. This is where a a third party, or professional comes in. Even though you’re right, your partner can make you feel bad, deny, say you’re wrong. Over time though this can make you feel gaslighted, resent your partner. Often couples initially don’t seek therapy to get at the underlying causes of their dynamic. They want to bring it before an objective party, hoping they will determine which of them is really at fault. And, sometimes that’s what we do. Right and wrong, isn’t a shell game.
It also doesn’t mean rubbing their nose in it. If one partner can’t acknowledge something the third party objectively sees as wrong, they need to recognize it. Why? To avoid colluding with the one partner, and indirectly validate the other. Maybe a light will go on for the partner, and they’ll stop the behavior. Because, if they do, the other can stop theirs.
Being able to recognize each other’s wrong, in reality, benefits each other. Think about it, your partner doesn’t want to be monitored any more than you want to monitor them. Without a partner’s buy in, however, someone has to be responsible, and do the monitoring for both of them.
Unless they just can’t–on their own.
Like Christi who called because her marriage was in crisis, desperate for my next available appointment.
Both she and her husband, Thatch, were sizable and intimidating. I nearly apologized for having such a small office, after the couch strained audibly receiving their combined bulk. After initial exchanges, Christi glanced at her husband.
“Do you want to go first?”
After a minute Thatch offered, “So, I fucked up. I can own it.” He pulled at his mustache. “Total rookie mistake,” he assured me. “I set it down and forgot to go back and make sure it was put away.”
Christi had a hard time containing herself. “Thatch, you went to get high.”
“My job’s already stressful enough.”
She said to me, “We have a four year- old son.” Thatch didn’t like her saying this.
“Yeah, Thatch, a fucking beautiful boy, who thinks the world of you!”
“Did this fuck up involve your son?” I asked him, but watched her.
He leaned forward, hard eyed, trying to determine what I already knew, whether to open up and the potential repercussions.
“So, I have a few guns. I mean I’ve always—“
Christi was about to interject something, but I raised my hand and said, “Did your son get ahold of the gun?”
He glanced at Christi, then up at the ceiling. “Yeah. I set one of them down to…. But then I got side tracked with some shit in the garage.” He tried laughing at himself.
I motioned for Christi. “It was loaded,” she said. “And I’ve been on his ass since our son was born to get rid of them.”
“They’re usually locked up.“
“Usually,” I said.
“That time you didn’t,” Christi jumped in. “It only takes one.”
Thatch knew this. He either didn’t want to give up his guns, or acknowledge the truth of what she had been telling him. Christi just needed me to help tilt the scales.
“Thatch, imagine what might’ve happened. This would’ve been an entirely different session. And you want to fight it? Be grateful this is all it’s about.”
I didn’t say this because I was right, but reinforcing Christi’s being right: having guns at home pose a danger to their child. Thatch could’ve left out a bottle to pills, or an edible.
It was his ignoring a real danger, that she had been right in pointing out.