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When You Know You're Right

Have you ever had one of those discussions where you just know you're right and your wife or husband is wrong? Not the sort where you debate whether Bigfoot exists or not, but the sort where you think it makes sense to buy a bigger lawn mower or to stay away from Aunt Zelda's third wedding and you're getting an argument.

There are two ways to handle these. The most common seems to be what I call the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game. You phone a friend or corner folks in the kitchen at work and ask them which of you is right. Nine times out of ten, you hear what you wanted to hear: of course you're right!

Now you can continue the discussion, this time with ammunition in case your spouse does not yet agree you're right. Of course, if you're married to someone else who plays the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game, you had better hope you asked more people. They almost certainly heard from their people how right they are, too.

Nobody else cares as much about your husband or wife as you do. They care what you think of them, and you let them know what you wanted to hear: "Yes, your spouse is an ignoramus and you are much wiser." If they are any good at this, they even came up with at least one story to back you up. They went to a wedding they knew they should skip and they broke a leg or had a flat tire. They know a couple who bought a bigger lawn mower and now they have time to build beautiful zithers together.

Is your marriage better for this? You're no closer to making a decision you both can live with. And if the two of you work this out and find a Third Alternative that makes you both feel wise beyond your years, you're not likely to go back and correct the impression you gave of your mate. Years from now, when you really need friends to help you weather a storm in your relationship, they'll still be wondering how you can stand to stay with such a fool.

So what can you do instead? Assume Love. Assume you married a good man or a good woman who loves you and has your best interests in mind. Try to make sense of how he or she may have come to this choice, because there might be something to your spouse's thinking, even if you don't like his or her conclusion. After all, this is the person who chose you out of all the people in the world.

Before you offer any counterarguments, try asking what leads this man or woman who loves you to an option that doesn't immediately appeal to you. Are you being misunderstood, or are you overlooking something that hasn't yet occurred to you?

Remember that you should never lie to yourself when you Assume Love. You don't dismiss your own thoughts about the disagreement. You test the assumption that your mate is acting with love to see what you can learn or recall from this and to avoid acting on your lizard brain's (limbic system's) first take until your cerebral cortex gets up and running on this disagreement.

No matter what those folks trying to stay on your best side might say, neither of you is right if you disagree. It just means you've limited yourselves to two options that are not right for you two as a couple. If you argue for either of them, your relationship suffers. If you drag others into the debate, your support system suffers. Assume Love. Then find a Third Alternative.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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