Houston relationship therapist

Do you have to be right all the time? Or maybe the culprit is your partner. Or both of you. Right fighting in relationships can cause a lot of frustration and heartache.

What is it? Let’s look at an example.

What Is “Right Fighting” in Relationships?

A couple is getting ready to go to the woman’s mother’s house. Her partner is in a sour mood about how early they have to leave. He tells her the drive to her mother’s house is only 10 minutes long. She says it’s actually closer to 30 minutes. She’s trying to get them to leave at a reasonable time.

Not to be deterred, he proceeds to “prove” that she’s wrong about the time. He mentions other houses or buildings that are around the house that are a quick drive, and that rush hour will be over soon. The woman holds her ground, saying that there is no way they can get there in 10 – or even 20 – minutes.

They continue to argue over the length of the drive. And build up a lot of anger before arriving at her mother’s house.

What’s really happening is that the man is dilly-dallying about going to his partner’s mother’s house. And she’s feeling hurt and frustrated by this.

But instead of actually saying, “I feel hurt that you don’t want to visit my mother,” she focuses on the time. She’s not wrong to want them to leave early — he’s wrong about the time.

Of course, her partner shouldn’t be let off the hook either. He’s clearly looking for an excuse to put off going. But doesn’t want to admit it. Maybe even to himself.

So it becomes about them being “right” instead of honestly dealing with the situation.

This is “right” fighting.

It doesn’t usually deal with feelings or abstract ideas. A typical “right fight” could easily be solved with a quick Google search. But both partners refuse to budge.

Right fighting in relationships is not only exhausting and unproductive, it leads to more anger on both sides.

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What Causes This Kind of Fighting?

If someone feels the need to be right as an adult, they were probably raised by parents who consistently told them they were wrong.

We’re not talking about fact-based right and wrong, either. If a child thinks 2+2=5, their parents should correct them.

But let’s say a child tells their parents they’re cold. The parent can either:

a) acknowledge the child’s reality (by offering the child a jacket or blanket) or

b) dismiss the child’s statement (by telling them that it’s actually warm in the room).

A child who is subjected to the latter is more likely to become adamant when their reality is tested by another person. To develop the need to “right fight.”

Even worse, children who are raised this way tend to choose partners with similar attributes! Put those two people together and you’re almost guaranteed a clash.

“Right fighting” isn’t just a pain in and of itself. By continually arguing over who is right, you’ll spend less time focusing on the actual issues at hand.

If the couple above spends 20 minutes debating about the length of the drive, that’s 20 minutes lost. They will have made no real progress on the real thing that is frustrating them.

This is utterly unhelpful if you are trying to find a couple’s answer.

What You Can Do to Stop This Kind of Fighting with Your Partner

The next time you find yourself in an argument with your partner, try this:

  • Stay present
  • Think clearly about what you’re saying and arguing about
  • If you catch yourself “right fighting,” take a step back
  • Ask yourself, “are these details important to the issue at hand?” If they aren’t, drop them and focus on the more important conflict
  • Focus on coming to a couple’s answer

Once you’ve done that, then you can go back and clear up minor details.

Most of the time, though, you’ll find those details don’t matter after you’ve kissed and made up. Ultimately, it comes down to this: would you rather be “right” or happy?

Reach out today to learn more about how Imago Relationship Therapy addresses “right fighting” and other similar conflicts in a relationship.

Originally Published 6/5/2017. Updated 12/16/2020