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Would Your Rather Be Right or Happy?

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistMarch 05, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Ever notice how you tense up when someone disagrees with you? It feels almost like an insult, like they’re dismissing you along with your thoughts. And the opposite is true, too – it feels good when people agree with you. You feel validated, liked, and affirmed. So, it’s no surprise that you might feel strongly invested in getting people to agree with you. But being too insistent about this can cause a real problem – it can undermine your relationships.

Although discussing differences of opinion is part of the give-and-take of conversations, people quickly stop engaging with someone who strongly pushes their opinions and fails to listen to others. They give up trying to express their thoughts and feelings. It’s simply not worth the aggravation. So, whether you are discussing the benefits of bottled versus tap water or the implications of Obamacare, they are likely to let you have your way if you are bullheaded. If this happens once or just occasionally, the consequence is that your conversation will be brief. However, a pattern of these kinds of conversations will leave a distance in your relationship.

When you are focusing more on being right than on having a shared dialogue, you foster competitiveness at the cost of feeling close. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good verbal joust, but when this kind of communication defines your relationship, you won’t be able to rely on each other for caring, support and validation – all of which are key in feeling emotionally close.

But when you make an honest effort to understand each other, you and the other person can feel heard and respected – even when you hold differing opinions. Yes, it can be frustrating when they don’t see the truth that is so apparent to you, but rein in the urge to repeatedly attempt enlightening them after you’ve laid out your argument. Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to their own opinion – and say it like you mean it. As you do this, also remind yourself that other people are not so different from you – they like feeling respected even when others disagree.

I frequently see people in therapy who have a sense that they need to choose between being happy and being right. It most often comes up when I treat couples in which each person is trying desperately to get the other one to see the truth (that they are right). As with any personal relationship, they must learn to understand – but not necessarily agree with – each other. This is essential for nurturing a sense of empathy, compassion, and caring. Though it can be a difficult shift to make, to be happy in a close relationship, you must give up your fight to be right. Instead, embrace your right to be happy.

Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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