Establishing a right/wrong framework in interpersonal communication is not likely to bring two people closer together. It is my belief that the goal of getting closer is overarching in personal relationships, even if we are not conscious of it in the moment of a heated discussion.
When I explain this to couples in conflict, they look doubtful, as if to say, “So you’re telling me that this person sitting across from me who is scowling and trying to back me into a corner is actually trying to get closer to me?” It can be a hard sell on my part and truthfully, sometimes the other person is trying to get the better of you. In my experience, however, that is not common.
Most all the time when we tease apart a situation, there is a good intention—a desire to solve a problem and feel emotionally closer—and winning seems like the way to get there. Here’s the logic: I know what’s going on here. I’ve figured it out and if you would just listen to me and trust me we could get somewhere. Obviously you haven’t figured it out, so believe what I’m telling you and the situation will get better. I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying if I didn’t believe it is right and the best way to solve this problem.
Of course both people are saying the same thing to themselves and both are trying hard to convince the other. In Part 1, I suggest that the first person to recognize the right/wrong discussion pattern should openly acknowledge it and simply stop—damage control. Then you can regroup and be more intentional about listening, understanding, and collaborating.
Implied here is a belief that each person has good intentions, something that’s hard to believe when emotions are high in an intense conflict. I do think it’s the right place to begin and the only way to discover for sure if the other person truly has bad intentions. And if that’s the case, the truth of it will be useful in moving forward—one way or another.