Why Being Right is Wrong: How to Keep Individualism from Collapsing Your Relationships

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene is an Emmy Award winning animator and designer. He blogs and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, HLN, Talking Cranes, The Shriver Report, The Huffington Post, Mamamia and Role Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
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  1. wellokaythen says:

    Generally good advice, based on my marital experience. At least you agree with the couple’s therapist my wife and I have hired, and she’s been very helpful, so you both must be on to something….

    Each person is still an individual on some level. A marriage is two individuals working on a team. The team needs both people to contribute, but both individuals have to get what they need. Not everything each one needs all the time, but on some minimum level. Thinking only in terms of what your wife needs and what your marriage needs is also a recipe for disaster, so let’s not make the mistake of going to the opposite extreme. Subsuming every part of yourself under someone else’s wishes or for the sake of your marriage will not work over the long term, unless you’re someone incapable of resentment.

    My wife and I have agreed to a great compromise:

    I know everything, and she’s always right. : – )

    • Thanks for the comment WOT,
      My theory of focusing on the relationship can work with only one person doing so, but it works much better if both do. That is to say, things will improve as one person does it for a while and the other suddenly looks up and finds themselves feeling more generous. But yes, this isn’t about ignoring ones own needs. Its about getting them acknowledged in the larger context of what is a good relationship, instead of the smaller context of what I need. The politics work better that way.

  2. ogwriter says:

    @Mark: Big ups to you for taking on that most holy of holy grails,individualism.Individualism more than even Christianty speaks to who we think we are a cultureand as human beings.Our overreliance on individualism as a defing quality, has borne some bitter fruit, yet we fail culturally, time and again, to reflect upon the negative impact of individualism on American culture.
    Since we have codemned and moved away from tribal cultures, believing that the individual is more important than the group, we have suffered mightly, yet we aren’t willing to question deeply our committment to certaim values.
    Following indidivdiualism as a creed is counterintuitive to the human condition. We know intrisnically that isoaltion from other humans makes us sick, il. Solitaru cinfinement is one of the most harsh punishments a person can face in prison
    I find it ironic that the first settlement in America, in Jamestown, was a complete disaster-they were facing starvation because they didnt’ know how to grow food in the sandy soil- and would have failed if not for the help they recevied from the Native Americans.
    Yet, our hug,e prideful,American egos would have us beleive that America was founded on the grit and determination of the rugged ondidividual. What nonsenset!

  3. Newt Green says:

    Hrm… I feel foolish for saying this, but I feel like I’m missing the meat and potatoes of the article. I understand what is being implied, but I’m failing to contextualize it in a way that sends it home. Perhaps you can write more on this in this future?

  4. Wow, this article really blew me away. I find the content very refreshing and thought-provoking. The ideas here really resonate with me, I felt a sense of relief as I was reading them. Just the shift in thinking about what is right for me & what is right for you to instead what is right for us, us/the relationship/the space in between, seems so full of opportunity. And the bit about judging as little as possible, yes, I’d like to embrace that. Any resources you can share would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! Excellent writing, also. :)

  5. wellokaythen says:

    My wife has a saying for when I’m overly focused on being right:

    “all alone in Rightville.”

    Hard as it is for the literal, aspergerian side of my mind to believe, objective reality often has very little to do with how well your relationship is working. I am not in the habit quoting Oprah, but I do appreciate her question on this:

    “Do you want peace, or do you want to be right?

  6. I kinda get what your saying but what I struggle to visualise and see is this third entity – what is this space other than a Collection of needs, wants, processes, desires, opinions, etc? Visualising it for you son’s sake is easy compared to if it is just the two of you. What is it that you are adding and what is it that you are taking away. For me to get the meat, I think I need to understand what this third entity is. Love this concept of moving away from individuality and not assuming that the whole world revolves around you but you are part of that world, but I need to understand what is this 3rd party – this definition of a relationship?

    • You make a wonderful point. Somehow we are able to think this way about our children more easily, possibly because we are conscious of a very clear third entity, our child’s future. Or our relationship with our child. We are inclined to be selfless in that moment and it is the selflessness that allows us to move out of our self centered focus and into the third shared space. Perhaps the path to a more peaceful relationship is selflessness? What is best for us, vs. what is best for me?

      We exist not within ourselves but in relationship to each other. That is to say, even in this singular transaction you and I are having now, I am changed by your question and I might be changing you via my response. This third entity is that process of being in relationship, of being in the creative back and forth process that is creating something new every second of the day. The back and forth process is one way to mark this third entity.

      Accordingly, we are really powerful. We are able to change the relationship between us, not by some long process of changing ourselves internally, but by the simple choice of how we interact. That interaction is where we have great flexibility if we only will grant ourselves that. For instance, we can choose to operate on the assumption that our partner always means well. Doing so makes us track different things, and makes us more open to their ideas. The energy shifts. The possibilities open up. So its not just about wants and needs. You get closer when you mention process. Its about the powerful generative influence we have in this third space. This third entity is what is getting created in the back and forth. We can grow it or damage it. To the degree that we part ways and it is gone or stay and grow it.

      One approach to tracking this space is to ask yourself a simple question. “What am I creating when I say or do this?”

  7. Kathleen Henry says:

    Thanks for writing on this topic. Changing my relationships with family and friends from toxic and dysfunctional is something I’m working on doing right now. And it’s something I’m struggling with, because as helpful as it was to realize that I *was* (and sometimes am… this is a work in progress, after all) contributing to the problems of our relationship – because obviously, if it’s my behaviour, I can change it… changing my own behaviour is all I can do. It’s a really hard thing to realize that my ideal relationship with people is partially dependent on their willingness to change their behaviour. I guess, the question I’m still figuring out the answer to is, “what do you do if you say “how about we look at it a different way”, and the answer is “no”?”

  8. I heard on the radio about a study. Married men have a choice. We can be right or we can be happy. How classic is that! My buddy looked up the study and apparently the researchers had to throw in the towel after a few weeks because both the wives and husbands who were taking part sunk into a deep depression. The husband was instructed to never argue and to basically say “Yes Honey” all the time. I’ll see if I can get the links from by mate.

  9. But we can not marry ourselves.

    Really? Well, some people apparently beg to differ with that rule.


    As parodic as it sounds, some publications at least pretended to take seriously the concept of “self-marriage” or “sologamy.”


    Then again, it is not as if everyone or anyone has to marry or engage in some conjugal association.

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