So often when couples come for help they start off like two dogs fighting over a bone. Each locks onto their end of a particular issue and tugs as hard as possible to have it his or her way. When there are several issues on the table the fur really starts to fly. Now you might be thinking: What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t you speak up for yourself when you think you’re right? That’s true up to a point, but if you don’t know when to let go, the need to be right becomes oppressive. You might as well go around wearing a t-shirt that says: I’m stubborn and foolishly inflexible.
Digging your heels in, being rigid, and refusing to budge can make you feel powerful. But it’s a false power that comes at a steep price: damage to your marriage. In the dog analogy above, the bone is your relationship, and if you both continue pulling on your end, you’re likely to pull it to pieces. One of you will end up the winner in the short term, but it’s a hollow victory if it brings your partner one step closer to a final breaking point.
The person who consistently has to be right is very difficult to be around. Think about it. Would you be friends with someone who made himself an expert on every topic that came up between you, who always insisted he knew better, and who always had an excuse ready to explain away any behavior you took issue with? Obviously his needing to be right means you have to be wrong. And no one likes being wrong all the time.
The problem of not letting go is more dangerous than it appears on the surface. It has a very destructive element in it. People who want to be right use being defensive as a way to shut out what others have to say. Research studies have shown that defensiveness is a major predictor of divorce. Why? Because defensively needing to be right makes it impossible for partners to talk through their issues.
Without an open dialogue, mutual understanding of one another’s point of view is not possible. And without this kind of understanding, there’s little chance issues can be successfully resolved. The result is that they pile up like hot spots ready to burst into flames whenever something goes wrong. This is not an atmosphere that encourages love and passion.
Staying close and loving in your relationship partly depends on your ability to let go and surrender. Letting go means giving up your need to be right, so you can do what’s best for you relationship. It means giving up the pseudo moral high ground to care for what’s truly important—the quality of your togetherness. Instead of becoming defensive and stubbornly sticking to your point of view, strive to be flexible and change your behavior, because it’s the right thing to do for your relationship. This is exactly what roommates don’t do; they adamantly stick to their position, thereby triggering one defensive and divisive standoff after another. Don’t make that mistake.
After two years of living together and four years of marriage, Jan and Dennis can’t seem to get what they need from one another. They both work full time and have a four-year-old daughter.
Dennis is angry and frustrated. He feels unappreciated for all the things he does both in and out of the house, which to his mind is a lot. Jan, he says, is never satisfied, she always has some thing else for him to do. Her lack of affection and their infrequent sex have him feeling resentful most of the time. He has begun to think that he’ll never do enough to have her want him again.
Jan feels Dennis doesn’t pull his fair share of the work that has to get done. She doesn’t like having to remind him of things that should, by now, be routine. He is frequently late, and doesn’t call, and makes commitments which he then forgets to follow through on. Most recently he forgot to mail the mortgage payment and incurred a late fee, went for a bike ride without his cell phone, and came back two hours later than expected, and started yet another house project while the last four are still unfinished. All of this frustrates Jan; she feels she’s on her own, even though she’s married. She wants more cooperation from Dennis, and until she gets it, she can only be lukewarm to him.
The complaints this couple have are common in marriage. What’s more important and more damaging is the process they are tangled up in. Each refuses to accept as valid the other’s point of view. They both want the other to come over to their side. Each of them wants to hear the other say: “You’re right, I should do more.” They want to get rather than give.
If Jan practiced letting go, she would give up insisting that Dennis do more of what she wanted as a condition for her being warmer and more affectionate. If Dennis practiced letting go, he would do more to help out and be cooperative in ways that are important to Jan before expecting her to be more loving. Each, by not having a need to be right and being willing to let go, would be free to give rather than waiting to get. And giving the other what they need is the most powerful way of encouraging that person to give back.
The book "Are You Roommates or Soulmates" is
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