Have you ever had a fight with your spouse about some small, inconsequential detail?
Maybe you are convinced that a shirt is black – not blue. Or he thinks you ordered coffee the last time you visited a restaurant, and you remember drinking tea.
In the middle of the fight, you may even have a moment of clarity where you realize that this doesn’t really matter.
Who cares about the color of that shirt in the grand scheme of things? What you ordered last time doesn’t have to impact what you get this time.
But you just can’t let go. Or maybe your spouse can’t let it go – unless you’re willing to say, “You’re right, honey. You win.” But, of course, that’s not always possible.
And the resulting argument from this small thing somehow snowballs into a full-blown fight.
This is called “right fighting,” and it’s a common source of marital conflict for many couples.
In hindsight, a right fighting argument can sometimes seem silly, but it can do just as much damage to a relationship as a fight about deeper or more consequential issues.
Understanding the Source of Right Fighting
First, let’s talk about why people engage in right fighting.
People who frequently engage in right fighting can often trace their behavior back to their parents.
As a child, they may have been frequently told they were wrong or mistaken. This doesn’t mean correcting factual errors, but often subjective or emotional experiences.
Let’s say they had a minor injury. Their parent could respond by acknowledging their pain… but maybe they were told something like, “It wasn’t that bad. You’re fine. Stop crying about it.”
This doesn’t acknowledge what the child is experiencing. In fact, it utterly dismisses the child’s experience.
If this is an experience repeated throughout childhood, it can result in an adult who becomes adamant when their view of reality is tested or questioned by another.
Here’s the bad news: those people often seek out partners who also engage in right fighting!
Fortunately, it is possible to change your behavior. And the sooner you recognize the behavior – and acknowledge its roots – the easier it can be.
If possible, get the answer.
Stop fighting about it – Google it. Who was that actor in the movie you just saw? How long does it really take to get to your mother-in-law’s house? You can argue about these things for hours on end – or you can just look them up.
Do it as early on in the discussion as possible. The longer you wait, the higher emotions will be when you learn the ultimate answer. The goal isn’t to have a “winner” and a “loser” – but to find out the answer, right? Approach it that way, and respect one another.
Focus on the process – not the content.
Your partner swears he or she said, “white.” But you just know they said “red.”
Yes, it’s technically true that one of you is right and the other is wrong. But there’s no way to ever really know. Did one of you misspeak, or did one of you mishear? Honestly, here’s the more important question: who cares?
Your relationship should take priority over being right. Instead of fighting for “what really happened,” acknowledge your partner’s reality: “I probably misheard you.”
This communicates to your partner that you are listening to them. You care about their thoughts and feelings. You respect their perspective.
This will encourage your partner to feel safe with you, open up more, and give up their own need for right fighting.
For many, this can be a struggle at first. You may be tempted to follow up: “I probably misheard you. I swear you said red. Are you sure you didn’t say red? I really think you did.”
Bite your tongue. Keep the ultimate goal in mind: acknowledging the other person’s perspective. Because when you do, you can make your relationship deeper and happier.
And know this: practice makes perfect. You can let go of right fighting. Just keep at it!
Choose your timing wisely.
Not all instances of right fighting occur over minor details. Sometimes you may find you or your partner entrenched in an opinion over something important, like parenting, finances, or a career choice.
Don’t you wish there was a way to help ensure your partner was in a more open-minded mood? Guess what? There is! It’s simple: pick your timing.
Our brains naturally struggle during times of the day where we are switching from one activity to another. We are not at our peak ability to really listen to our partner’s perspective in a meaningful way.
It’s no surprise that we are more prone to fighting during these transition times, which include:
- Waking up
- Leaving in the morning for work or school
- Coming home after the day
- Going to bed
These are times when we may be tired or focused on getting tasks done on a deadline. When you engage with your partner during these transition times, you are asking him or her to deal with yet another stressor on top of that.
Instead, engage your partner in a discussion when he or she is calm, relaxed, and able to focus on the conversation without other distractions.
If you are parents, find time when your children are asleep, away, or at least otherwise occupied. This is especially important if you have young children who may have pressing needs (or at least needs that they believe are pressing!). When you and your partner have little voices breaking in to make requests, it can be hard to give the discussion your full attention.
Work Together for Greater Happiness
Working to get rid of right fighting doesn’t mean giving up your own perspective – just acknowledging and listening to your partner’s.
Right fighting won’t vanish over night, but you can work together to promote healthier forms of conflict resolution.
Stay focused on what’s really important: greater happiness for you both.
Rooting for you!