The Need to be Right
This is an excerpt from my novel, currently in progress. But it’s based on real experiences, and is pretty relevent for a lot of us.
I think possibly God screwed up a little when he created us without the benefit of better foresight. It does us very little good to understand what an idiot we were until well after the event or issue. I am well aquatinted with the saying “Hindsight is 20/20”. If only foresight could be, too. Truly, I’m so very ashamed for all the times I was too stubborn to back down on stuff that really didn’t matter. I mean, some of the things I fought so hard for, I now know — with that handy hindsight — were totally not worth fighting for. They had neither the power nor the ability to change the course of our future, yet I fought for them as if they did.
The thing with me, for a long time, was that I had a major problem with ever wanting to feel like I was wrong. I could never let my husband be right, even when he was. Enough time has passed now that I have the invaluable addition of hindsight to help me see that it was nothing more than my own insecurities driving me to always insist I was right.
Back then, I believed the issue was obvious. You were either right, or you were wrong. And if one person is right, the other is wrong. Now, this is hardly an earth shattering revelation here. I’m sure everyone already knows this truth. You can’t be both at once. And just like any other opposite in our universe, (light and dark, hot and cold, up and down), you’re either one or the other.
What I didn’t know, however, is that it’s actually okay to be “wrong”. That if someone else is right, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re stupid, or weak, or less than, or not as good as, the other person. Back then, I believed that was exactly what it meant.
I remember a time this issue reared it’s ugly head; so clear, it’s like it happened only days ago. I can hear my husband’s voice, I can smell his scent… when I close my eyes it’s like I’ve been transported back in time. We were talking about where we wanted to go on our next holiday. I told him I wanted to go somewhere hot and tropical, with a beach and an ocean. He smiled and shook his head, saying,
“No offence, but I don’t want to just lay around all day with sand in my shorts. I actually want to DO something, and see different stuff. If we’re just going to lay around all day soaking up the sun, we can do that here.”
“Well,” I argued, “the whole point of a vacation is to relax. If we’re going to be running all over, rushing around to do or see the next fun thing, then I don’t see how relaxing that’s supposed to be.”
“We can lay around when we’re old or dead,” he said casually, a smile playing on his lips. “While I’m living, I want to live.”
I didn’t say anything for a few minutes, because part of me agreed with him. There’s so much to see and do in this world, why would we spend all that money just to go somewhere and lay around? Another part of me, though, disagreed. I loved sun, heat, and water. A beach vacation sounded like exactly the right thing. Plus, I didn’t want him to be right… so I argued.
“Really, though, that’s why people go to places with a beach. Because we don’t have them here, so it IS something new and different than what we’re used to. And no one says we have to lie around all day. There’s lots of different things to try.”
He laughed, but with an edge that told me he was starting to get annoyed.
“I don’t swim, and I don’t do water sports… so tell me, what activities does that leave us on this beach vacation you want?”
Like I mentioned before: in those days I couldn’t stand to let him be right — which, in my mind, meant that I was weak/dumb/less-than. So, even though I really had no desire to sit on a beach for a week straight either, I kept arguing.
“Look, you basically got to pick the last trip. You wanted to go to Vegas, so we did. And yeah, it was super fun. I had a blast. But it was exhausting. All of that walking and walking and walking… Plus, we stayed up so late every night! Our last night there, we didn’t even go to bed ‘till 5:00AM, and then we had to be at the airport by 10! It took me over a week to recover from that “holiday”. I don’t want to do that again. I’m tired, and I’m drained, and i just want to go relax. Sleep in every morning, not have to worry about rushing around to go somewhere and do something. Yeah, I want to live my life, too… but I also don’t want to be too tired to function!”
Exasperated, he blew out a big breath and said, “Fine. You win. You pick it, you plan it, you book it. You’re total in charge of this trip. I thought that since this is my life, too, and I work to pay the bills the same as you, I would at least have a little bit of a say in what we do for fun… what we spend our money on. But if you want to have it all your way, go ahead. Just don’t expect me to be happy about it, and don’t think I’m going to lay around all day, because I won’t. I’ll find things to do, and if you don’t want to come, then don’t.”
So, I had won. I got my way, like I often did. Yet, it was becoming increasingly common for these so called “victories” to feel hollow.
I used to think that fighting so hard for something — and then winning that fight — would leave me feeling happy. Victorious. Elated, even, and maybe a little smug. But the truth is, it didn’t. I felt instead like I had lost. Maybe that’s because when someone you love loses, you lose, too.
Whatever the reason, I was starting to see that these little wins of mine were starting to feel pointless at best, and destructive at worse. Why did I have to fight so hard to get my own way? There were many times when I’d hear that little warning voice in my head, telling me to back off, that it wasn’t worth it, that he was RIGHT. But as soon as I’d hear that RIGHT word, I’d ignore all of those nudges and fight back even harder. I refused to be wrong, even when I was.
Over the course of my marriage, I’ve learned that more fights were fought due to nothing more than stubborn pride than anything else. But isn’t that often the case? If someone would only back down, the fight would never need to be fought. But even after I became aware of this, I still struggled with it. Because my belief was.this: If I back down, let him win, let him be right, does that then mean that I’m weak? Wrong? Being controlled?
I was never anything of those things, by the way, even as I worried that I was. I was never weak, “less-than”, or controlled by my husband. But back then, my fear was that by being wrong, or admitting he was right, I was somehow bowing down to him. Giving in to him. Giving him my power. Because there’s a skewed perception — at least in me — that the person who backs down, or admits they’re wrong, is powerless and weak.
I fought him on it so many times. And the stupid thing is, he wasn’t even trying to be right just for the sake of being right. He wasn’t doing it to make me wrong. He wasn’t doing it to control me, take my power, make himself something better, or any of the above. He was doing it because… he was actually right.
Finally understanding and accepting this truth changed my life in a profound way. When I stopped fighting just for the sake of proving I was right, a peacefulness I had always craved and dreamed of settled over our relationship and everything in my life. Surrendering this one small thing… (which is actually a big thing — the fear of being less-than, worthless, wrong, stupid or weak) surrendering to the insecurity-driven fears surrounding being “wrong”, I was able to rise above them. Heal them, clear them, and then, almost as if on it’s own accord, I became the opposite of what I was afraid of being.
Surrendering isn’t easy. It also isn’t the same as giving in. Sometimes the best way to win a battle is to eliminate the need to have one in the first place. The more I let go of my ego-driven need to be right, the more right everything in my world became.