Each person in a relationship has their own wants, needs and ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Often couples are not on the same page with what one person expect to receive and what the other is planning to give. When we don’t get what we expect to receive we are disappointed and need to figure out what to do with that emotion.
We try to figure out what caused this mismatch in what we thought we deserved and what we actually received. Is it you? Is it them? Who is right and who is wrong? But is this mismatch really a matter of right and wrong?
A Difference in Preferences
I think it’s more a matter of different preferences and social conditioning. Not that one way is the right way and another is the wrong way. Couples who have similar sets of what they plan to give and what the other expects to receive have less conflict.
For example, if a man takes a woman out and she expects him to open the door for her and to pay for her meal, because she believes that is what gentlemen do, she will be pleased if he also believes that a gentlemen opens the door for a lady and pays for her meal. They won’t even need to discuss the matter. He gives what he thinks is expected of him and she receives what she expects to receive. Case closed.
When Expectations Don’t Line Up
However, if he opens the door and pay for the meal for someone who perceives those acts as chauvinistic and disempowering to women, not only will he not be looked upon favorably for doing what he thinks is a kind gesture and what gentlemen do, but he will actually be thought of in a very negative way.
The same goes for a guy who takes a woman out and he thinks splitting the check after dinner is acceptable. He figures, since we no longer live in a time when women don’t work and are dependent on men to support them financially, that her paying for her half of the meal is reasonable.
She, however, does not see things that way and has other views about what a gentlemen should do. Her views is that what a gentlemen does has nothing to do with whether or not she can support herself financially and he should still pay for her meal as a kind gesture. He may never get a second date because of this mismatch in expectations.
Dealing With Mismatches
All women don’t have the same expectations, just as all men don’t. The challenge is knowing which set of expectation to apply to who. Should he pay for her meal or not? Which will she prefer? If he asks her, will she be honest with what she truly wants him to do? Will she tell him she is fine with splitting the check only to curse his name to all her friends afterward and spread the word that he is cheap and inconsiderate? Will she be upset that he even had to ask because “he should know”?
These mismatches happen around every topic and at every stage of a relationship. Couples who have been together longer can discover mismatches in every topic from what you expect your partner to wear on certain occasions to how much time you spend together and the type of activities you spend you time doing.
When these issues are worked out peacefully, usually either one person is successful in bringing the other person on board with their point of view or the two have to agree to disagree to keep the peace. When these issues aren’t resolves peacefully, the issues resurface over and over again because each person thinks they are right and their partner is wrong.
The “I’m Right” Mentality
The “I’m right” mentality is bringing relationship progress to a halt. Neither person can move forward because moving forward requires the other person to concede. I think a better approach is to realize that you are not right. You are also not wrong and neither is your partner. You just have a preference that is different. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.
Proving You’re Right
People have a habit of trying to prove they are right by how many other people they can find that agree with them. You might be able to find one hundred or one million other people who agree that you are right. The problem is, so can your partner. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, these are no more than a collection of opinions. Opinions that are often fleeting and change frequently.
Couples get caught in this cycle of trying to prove they are right to each other. They use examples of other relationships, things they’ve heard at work, news articles, and books. They bring up examples of things that happen in their relationship in the past and anything they can think of to get their foolish partner to finally realize how wrong they are.
Opinions Have Value
I’m not saying opinions don’t have value. What I am saying is it should be seen as just that, an opinion. What this does is it keeps the disagreement from being so personal and the reaction from being so visceral. If you can reduce the emotional investment and self defining attachment to your opinion it makes discussion a difficult issues and finding a solution much easier.
This perspective makes dealing with conflict much more manageable and far less personal. It will not end all of your conflicts or ensure that you or your partner will not both still want to cling strongly to your preference. However, if you can start seeing these differences as a difference in preference instead of a difference in the right way and the wrong way, your partner will stops being seen as stupid, stubborn, mean, or a barbarian for not seeing things the same way you do. You both become people who just have different points of view. You don’t have to be wrong in order to agree to do things the way your partner prefers or to compromise and neither do they.