Four Words That Will Radically Improve Your Relationship

Joe Duncan

Sometimes the solutions are simple

Photo by Wright Brand Bacon on Unsplash

Sometimes really great advice comes from the unlikeliest of all places. Recently, I stumbled upon a tweet that contained four words that would end up being like the Holy Grail to my social life.

One man was getting married and asking for advice from other people on Twitter. "I'm getting married tomorrow. What's your advice," his tweet read. Marriage announcements tend to be the kinds of tweets that get a lot of traction and there were thousands of replies. Digging among them, one stood out and hit me hard.

“Better nice than right.”

I stopped for a second and I thought about it. I looked around at all the people I know. I thought about all the failed relationships I'd been in. I thought about the more uncomfortable moments in my current long-term relationship. What I noticed was that whenever there was a conflict in a relationship, there was someone who was having a tug of war with themselves over this very idea. I was so guilty of this myself.

You see, I'm the kind of person who loves to be right. I don't speak unless I'm fairly certain I'm right about something, so it drives me nuts when there's a disagreement and I'm actually certain I'm right. Sounds noble, doesn't it?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much that trait must drive others crazy in relationships.

Love is about balance. Love is a process, a behavior, not a feeling that comes over us. Basically, if I had to define love (a fool's errand, I know), I'd have to say that above all things, love is a disposition and a manner of treating other people.

We treat the people we love differently from the people we merely like. We treat those we love differently from those we work with. With the people we love, it's not a contest about who's right and who's wrong. Relationships aren't a competition. Love isn't about winning.

I felt like in the moments I didn’t see eye-to-eye with partners and I just knew I was right, like the sky was falling, like it was a rejection of myself and my reality. I would feel personally attacked.

I had to outgrow that part of myself. Some of it came with age but most of it came with that realization that very little in life is actually worth a battle with your partner over. They’re your partner, not an intellectual sparring partner that you fight about every stupid little thing with.

Since the ah-ha moment when this dawned on me, this has been my relationship mantra ever since. Being nice to your partner comes before being right about everything so you can feel smugly good about yourself. Even if you are right and it’s an incontrovertible fact about the nature of the universe that you’re right about, it’s mighty selfish to pounce on someone and demand they acknowledge it.

Sure, we don’t want to lie to our partners just to avoid confrontation, but we need to understand that debates about the average lifespans of various cockroaches just isn’t a fight that’s going to be conducive to our relationship health.

I once asked him what made his marriage so successful and he said something quite like, “Better nice than right,” albeit in nowhere near as impressively concise of a sentence:

“You have to be willing to give 100% of yourself every single day for the rest of your life and never ask for a single thing in return.” For him, it’s all about expectations, and unmet and unreasonable demands make unhappy people.

It’s more important to be courteous than to be right. How narcissistic is it if our need to be right (and our need for others to acknowledge our rightness) comes before basic human decency? This is something a lot of people have a problem with, both men and women, our desire to be right being something that makes us feel understood; like our partners are on the same page as us.

But we need to shelf that pretty much every single day — when she’s overwhelmed, when he’s having a bad day, when they're hurt, when they're sad or stressed, or even angry at us. That’s when we need to be there the most for our partners.

Those aren’t the moments to be right. Those are the moments to be nice.

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