The simple answer is, yes. There are generally agreed to certainties in the world that can be viewed in terms of “right” and “wrong.” For example: two plus two equals four; an apple is an apple; and so on. But, the less simple answer is that the concept of “right” and “wrong” is often misused, which causes unnecessary conflict and contention in relationships of all kinds (partners, friends, family, etc.).
On a regular basis, I see couples where one points out when they believe the other is “wrong,” or that they themselves are “right.” But this begs the question: Where does the concept of perspectives fit in?
When it comes to emotional discussions, it is often a disagreement of perspectives and not a case of “right” versus “wrong.”
Other than the generally agreed upon certainties, “right” and “wrong” statements are mostly a matter of strong opinion and of personal values and beliefs. Something can be “right” or “wrong” to an individual person, but that doesn’t make it generally true. These types of statements are an attempt to place absolutes on non-absolute perspectives and do little more than create divisiveness and contempt in our relationships.
The most common causes of “right” versus “wrong” disagreements are differences in perspective where one tries to gain the upper hand by asserting that their perspective is actually the “right” one. This ends up as a power struggle by attempting to take a position above their partner. This type of thought process can lead to emotional bullying of the other because they may try to gather opinions of other like-minded people, or other forms of evidence, to stack against the person they are proving “wrong”. It starts to turn more into a competition against the other person, rather than working to repair the disagreement and move forward.
How to Disengage the “Right” and “Wrong” Mechanism
When you find yourself feeling strongly about a belief or value, or when you find yourself feeling that you are “right” and your partner is “wrong”, take a moment to consider that you may be caught in a difference of perspectives. In this case, no one is “right”, and no one is “wrong”. You’re just two people seeing a situation from a different angle and a different life experience.
Here’s an example of how this can play out:
Partner #1: “We were invited to our friend’s house for dinner on Friday. We should make a dessert to bring.”
Partner #2: “We don’t need to bring anything. They invited us for dinner, so they’re making everything.”
Partner #1: “No. We need to bring something. I’ve always done that, and that’s how I was raised…”
Partner #2: “Well, I was raised that when we’re invited that they make everything. And when we invite them they don’t need to bring anything…we’ll prepare it all for them. It goes two ways.”
Partner #1: “What?? How could you ever go to someone’s house for dinner empty-handed? Do you have any idea how bad that looks and how rude that is? That’s so wrong!”
Now, it’s very possible that you (the reader) may agree with one perspective more than the other, and you may see one perspective as more in line with certain values with the way in which you grew up. However, this is still an emotional disagreement of perspectives, rather than one being more “right” than the other (even if one is more “right” for you).
For example, what if the inviters grew up with the same perspective as Partner #2? This suddenly changes the entire perspective on the expectations and criteria of what may look “bad” or “rude,” or how unacceptable it would be if they showed up empty-handed.
So even if you can back up your belief and stack evidence, it’s still a matter of perspective since both sides have validity in their own way.
Here are some tips for removing contempt and divisiveness from disagreements:
- Remember: neither side is “right” and neither side is “wrong.”
- Remove absolute statements, and don’t look to stack evidence against the other.
- Both sides can be equally valid, even if you disagree with the other perspective.
- Forget finding a winner — look to understand the other perspective even if you don’t agree with it.
- Compromise, or agree to disagree.
I know some may feel that situations and disagreements need a winner or an absolute for comparison, however, comparisons to externals often cause trouble in relationships (see Relationships “Should” Be…Unique). Honoring individual perspectives opens a healthier balance, gives respect to both people, and strengthens the overall foundation of relationships.