How to deal with Mr. I'm always right? In a relationship.
February 26, 2015 5:55 AM   Subscribe

I've recently moved in with my boyfriend of almost a year and we appear to be having a few teething problems. When we have a disagreement (which are very few and far between) my boyfriend always has to be right. 1.) this is very annoying on my behalf because were only human and no-one can be right 100% of the time and;

2.) whilst I love my boyfriend I find myself becoming a little resentful of the fact I'm apparently always taking things the wrong way (& therefore wrong).
Am I being unreasonable by not backing down? How can I make my boyfriend see he cannot always be right when it hurts my feelings?
posted by NorthernLass2468 to Human Relations (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I gotta say I find attitudes like your boyfriend's incredibly wearing. It can be a real relationship killer. Tell him he can be right or he can be happy. If he has to be right all the time, you'll get sick of engaging and resentment will build and pretty soon he'll be right, all by his lonesome. If your feeling a count so little that he doesn't care, he just has to win, it tells you a lot about him and none of it's good.

You need to be with someone who can see both sides of a situation and admit when they are wrong, otherwise you're just dealing with an immature child and your relationship will never progress any further. Like I said, he can be right or he can be happy, which one does he want?
posted by Jubey at 6:07 AM on February 26, 2015 [20 favorites]

I'll disagree slightly with Jubey -- the decision he should be making is that he can be right or you can be happy. Ask him that, and if he chooses the former, then you need to re-evaluate how important you really are to him.
posted by Etrigan at 6:11 AM on February 26, 2015

Hi NorthernLass, I was in your situation a few years ago. I actually posted about it here. Unfortunately I have to tell you that relationship ended, I found a relationship with a very different man that made me much happier.

But, if you really want to try to make it work with this guy since you are living together, here are some things I would try, having been in a very similar spot:
- 1. Do not assume you are "always taking things the wrong way (& therefore wrong)! It is hard to know what is going on based on what you have posted (examples would help) but don't assume you are wrong just b/c the other person is saying so. Many people will do all sorts of complicated mind games to make you believe this when its just not true.
-2. It is a cliche but true - relationships take compromise. I think you are right to say to say that no one is right 100% of the time. In life, there is so much where is no right or wrong answer. For example, Recently my SO asked me to run an errand for him. I was tired and snapped back that he could do his own errands. Was I technically correct that he is responsible for his own errands? Yes, absolutely. Could I have been more caring and agreed to do a favor, or gently explained why my schedule is packed this week and it would better for him to? Yes, relationships are about compromise and helping each other in little things like this.
-3. If you really want to make it work, it is another cliche but I would consider therapy. Since you are already living together, it sounds like you have a lot invested. You may need and unbiased third party to weigh in about him always making everything your fault.
posted by seesom at 6:12 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Of course you're not being unreasonable by not backing down - you feel the way you feel. You are both entitled to your own emotions and to react to situations differently. Rather than framing it as who is "right" and who is "wrong", focus on each of you hearing what the other is saying and trying to come to an understanding, even though you recognize that you each feel differently about the matter. If the only way your boyfriend can end an argument is by being declared the winner, he is not valuing your feelings and you should seriously consider moving on without him.

Edited to add, on preview, seconding point #3 above.
posted by Bretley at 6:12 AM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm sure mefites will soon chime in with great conflict resolution skills and ways to talk to your boyfriend about this.

But personally I wouldn't be in this relationship. I have zero patience for people who repeatedly hurt my feelings, and being around someone who has to be right about everything is extremely tiresome.

Every time I date someone, I go into it with the assumption that people's bad habits won't get better. For the most part, people are who they are, you can't expect someone to make a complete 180° personality change. So my suggestion would be to think for a moment, is this relationship, the way it is now, acceptable to me? If he still has to be right 10 years from now and I'm still getting my feelings hurt, am I going to be ok with that? And move forward accordingly.
posted by phunniemee at 6:13 AM on February 26, 2015 [55 favorites]

This isn't a 'teething problem', and I think you know that. This is a fundamental relationship problem.

A person who insists that you're wrong in every discussion is breaking you down, brick by brick. You can have a discussion with your boyfriend, not while you're squabbling about something, but when things are peaceful and calm.

"Bertram, I am increasingly resentful about how you engage with me in a disagreement. Consistently I feel that you must 'win' an argument. Instead of reaching a mutually agreed upon resolution, you press to right and to have me acknowledge it. If you 'win,' I lose. Do you want me to feel like I'm losing when we disagree?"

Then see what he says. If he gets defensive and argumentative, it's time to bail, he's not ready to understand your point of view and it's better if you separate. If he's horrified and shocked, you have something to work with.

One thing you can do is to agree to point it out to him respectfully when it's happening. Try Ding Training with him.

But someone who does this is not a person who is used to seeing things from someone else's point of view, and consequently is not ready to be in an adult relationship.

Good luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on February 26, 2015 [15 favorites]

It's not you, it's him. And you can't change people who don't want to change.

Love is grand and great, but it's not the end all and be all of a relationship. If your partner's behavior is chipping away at your soul, mental health and general well-being (and make no mistake, this behavior does).

If he constantly left his socks on the floor or didn't push dishes in the dishwasher, ok, you can work with that. But always needing to be right is just not compatible with any intimate relationship. Just leave. Love means sharing things and having a good time, not constantly having to do back down.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I often behave this way myself and it has taken my entire life to overcome the reflex to react this way to disagreement. In my case I think it's a product of my father treating me this way as a little kid; he would actually just make facts up off the cuff and leverage other advantages of being an adult dealing with a kid to always come out on top in any disagreement, so standing up for myself always required meeting him with overwhelming argumentative force, anticipating anything he might say ahead of time and preparing a response for it. Unfortunately, this then formed the template for much of my interaction with other people.

In any case, yeah, it's a ridiculous and childish way to behave that you should not put up with at all. In later years I've had some small success interacting with my father and siblings who behave the same way by leaving aside the topic at hand and pointing out just how absurdly hostile and adversarial they're being over the silliest of matters.

But as other people point out, you're probably better off leaving him to find his own path through whatever makes him behave this way, rather than shouldering the burden yourself of remedying whatever need he has that causes this, if even that's possible and he would be receptive to it. Gauging by my mother's experience that would probably be a Sisyphean and utterly thankless task that would last your whole life.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 6:31 AM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

When you hit an impasse, use the phrase "We'll have to agree to disagree" and let the subject drop.

A longer variation: "I hear what you're saying [validation], but I still don't agree. Let's not discuss it any more because it's not getting us anywhere and just making us angry."

Not every argument in a relationship has to come to a tidy resolution.
posted by Leontine at 6:34 AM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

How old is he?

My impression is that perfectly decent people are like this a lot during their twenties or maybe a bit longer-- especially if it's more about conversational things. If it's about practical stuff, like how you live your life, that's harder to deal with, but with some people it's kind of a tic. Does he argue competitively? You still don't have to like it, but I think of lot of that's immaturity. You may be able to make headway by indicating that you don't want to have this kind of argument right now.

Now, if he's 45 and has been through a lot of jobs and relationships and it hasn't softened this tendency then he is going to be a pain in the ass to deal with and I'd say get out.
posted by BibiRose at 6:37 AM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]

Try to make a distinction between things that can be proven right vs. things that are opinions.

Right/wrong are objective, testable facts. "What time does the movie start?"

Opinions are pretty much everything else. "What color should we paint this wall?" Also, "What's the best way to load the dishwasher" because there's not really a way to effectively test that.

If the disagreement is over a fact, offer to test things out and review the results. If it's an opinion? "Yeah, we're adults, that love each other, so we're either going to compromise or agree to disagree and move on."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

if what Leontine suggested doesn't make your life easier in this regard, you deal with this person by dumping him and finding someone to date who is easier to deal with and not reflexively contradictory or hostile.

also, consider whether "very few and far between" is actually how often you feel this way about his behavior, because you were troubled enough to take the time to come here and post a question asking for help. in my experience, this does not get better, and the more involved you are with someone, the more you take on together, the more decisions and plans you make together, etc. - the more you need to be able to NOT act like he does in conflicts in order to make the relationship healthy and enjoyable. just a thought.
posted by zdravo at 6:43 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

A former girlfriend I lived with was of the "I'm sorry you feel that way" type, and it led to some incredible resentment. I could have handled my side of things better, and there were other problems, but she wasn't going to change, and our being apart really ended up for the best.
posted by kcm at 6:50 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I guess what makes relationships work over the long term is a combination of letting things go, and making compromises. So to be happy in the long run, you probably have to accept a certain level of, this is just who your boyfriend is. When he is being Mr Rightypants, you can probably sometimes just inwardly roll your eyes and know that no matter what he says, you are actually right, and if it makes him better to pretend he's right, well, you love him so that's fine.

Balance that with, have you tried directly telling him that it bothers you? Bring it up in a not too intense way and just say, "Look, it seems like arguments tend to end with you digging in and insisting on your point of view. That makes me feel bad because xyz. Just logically, you know I must be right sometimes! It would make me feel like you take me seriously if sometimes you showed that you know I'm right, or at least that you might not be right." Something like that?
posted by latkes at 7:25 AM on February 26, 2015

I hope that you realize that, based on what you've given us, your boyfriend could have written the exact same Ask.

I don't say this to imply that you are the problem or more at fault or anything like that. It's just that when you feel like he is demanding to be "right" and it's hurting your "feelings," it might help you both to if you consider his "feelings" as well, and what the consequences to you would really be if you a.) dropped whatever the subject at issue is, or b.) acquiesced to his view.

I don't think that making statements like "You could be right or I could be happy (and so you better choose my happiness otherwise you're an asshole)" is really conducive to a healthy relationship -- you're basically emotionally blackmailing your partner in order to get your way which is a special form of shitty.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:27 AM on February 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

Your feelings, opinions, and emotions are not wrong. They're something to be understood and addressed by you, and when you can explain to another person -- your boyfriend, a friend -- why you feel the way you do then a conversation can start. If your boyfriend is attempting to invalidate your opinions by claiming you're "taking things the wrong way," then it's his responsibility to learn how to communicate with you effectively, and your responsibility to explain why he's being hurtful or controlling.

If you can say "I feel hurt when you say X because this is how it makes me feel" then you're communicating and are "in the right" whatever the hell that might mean. If you define the right way or the wrong way based on how one person feels they should be able to act, then it's wrong.

I've been on both sides of this. It sucks. For what it's worth, if he plays the "you're a bad person for saying I make you feel bad, your feelings are your fault" game then he's an asshole or at least very unenlightened (I've also been there).
posted by mikeh at 8:01 AM on February 26, 2015

And you can't change people who don't want to change.

This is true. But sometimes people do want to change, when they realize the impact of their behavior and value the relationship. You won't know whether this describes your boyfriend until you try: by having a conversation in which you explain how his behavior affects you and is making you reconsider the relationship. It also depends somewhat on why he's doing it. Is it insecurity? Anxiety? Does it have something to do with his upbringing? You'll learn a lot about the problem if you talk to him. And if he won't talk about it, then you'll have learned he isn't a good guy to live with.

I can say that in my own relationship, my boyfriend has these tendencies but they are improving hugely. In part it came from anxiety, and from simply never having shared space, time, or decision making with anyone...ever. He'd never had a roommate, never shared space with a sibling, never lived with a partner. Compromise wasn't a part of his life really at all, and compromise isn't a character trait that people are born with--it's a learned behavior.

He genuinely loves me and does not want to make me unhappy, so he is learning to compromise. Largely for him this means not picking the fights to begin with. If I've loaded the dishwasher "wrong," he knows he can either fix it himself, or leave it and just be glad someone else did the dishes. For my part, I genuinely love him and do not want to make HIM unhappy, so I've made the effort to learn why he is feeling defensive or anxious about being right. This means that sometimes I do back down, even if I'm "right."

It isn't perfect yet but our lives together are very happy. Some people upthread have said this isn't "teething pain" but you know, it could be. It was for us. Dating was smooth as could be, but living together brought out our vulnerabilities in a big way and we had to learn a lot of new things.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:03 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have some friends that are in the process of getting divorced, and this was a key issue (among other things).

I recommend having a very explicit conversation about this. Something along the lines of "Hey, it feels like whenever we have an argument, you feel like you need to be right 100% of the time. And it hurts my feelings. It seems like you're never wrong and you're never sorry, and that makes me feel bad." And see where the conversation goes from there.

In my view, if Partner A says "you're doing this thing that makes me feel bad" and Partner B says "well that's tough shit, suck it up," that's a Very Serious Problem, so long as the "ask" from Partner A isn't unreasonable. For example, A can't say "you're going to work every morning and that makes me feel bad." But if it's "you never ask me how my day went and that makes me feel bad," then B had better start taking steps to make A not feel bad anymore.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Am I being unreasonable by not backing down?

Of course not. No one is right 100% of the time, and if he insists that he must be, he's the one being unreasonable, and childish to boot. Someone who acts like that is not someone one could be in a long-term relationship with, and it's totally on him to change, not you.

Conflict resolution skills are great in the short term if he's putting in the work to change. If he isn't willing to recognize that need -- your need -- I'd look for the exit.
posted by Gelatin at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2015

Is your boyfriend hyper logical / rational / cerebral? I find people like that think they're always right because of course their logic is infallible. Ugh.

Anyways, I find one way to find out whether these people are just a little a self-centred in the normal way or completely beyond recourse is to tell them how what they said or did made me feel. It's hard to tell from your question what your disagreements are about, but if he's protesting "but you took me the wrong way" the way out is not to argue logic (because logically his intent wasn't to hurt you of course!) and instead just say or show him how hurt you are. If he apologizes, he gets it. If he sticks to being right...

It took my partner a few months to realize that apologizing even when logically you didn't do anything wrong is ok. I think his sister was a "give an inch, take a mile" type person, so he learned never to give any inches. Then with me he learned that if he gave an inch, I took and inch an that was it. So now it's much better.

That's all I can say. Don't get into logic arguments. Just say that it hurt. He should care that it hurts.

Since relationships are a two way street, you can also acknowledge his point of view "I understand you meant no ill intent, but I took it like this way, and it hurts me." He doesn't have to say "yes you're right, I meant it your way not my way" because that wouldn't make sense. He meant it his way. But he can say "oh I'm sorry! I didn't want you to take it that way. I understand that you're sensitive about ABC. I see why you took it that way, even though I meant it this way. I can word it XYZ next time."

So it's not really about you "giving in" or "being objectively right" as it is about understanding each other's point of view, and caring about feelings.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:24 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

It might help to try to make very clear the difference between "conceding" and "dropping the subject". "Backing down" conflates the two.

Can you both find ways to say "this conversation isn't fun for me any more" that leave the argument itself unresolved?

People hardly ever seem to change their minds in one conversation. They need time to themselves to think things over.
posted by bfields at 8:27 AM on February 26, 2015

Caring enough about your relationship and your partner to be able to stop in the middle of an argument and say, "Let's just agree to disagree," and not seeing that as backing down or one person being right or wrong, would be a big step in the right direction.

If whatever you're arguing about is too big a deal to just drop the subject, if either of you seems to be inventing things to argue about, or if the arguments become personally insulting and it ends up seeming like you don't really respect each other, that would be a bigger problem.
posted by bananana at 8:56 AM on February 26, 2015

Oh - no. Walk away from this. You're already being gaslit. No happy end to this one that's not leaving.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:08 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

How can I make my boyfriend see he cannot always be right when it hurts my feelings?

What? These two things have nothing to do with each other. Either he's right or he's wrong about an issue; that's just a factual thing. How he communicates that may well hurt your feelings, but in that case the actual issue here isn't who's right, it's his craptastic communication method.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:21 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I had a similar problem with my boyfriend. Here's a question I asked after being with him for 5 months that might be helpful to you. Basically, the turning point for us was when I told him how seriously he was hurting my feelings, and he was really surprised and scared by how bad he'd been making me feel. After those conversations, he completely stopped questioning my logic.

However, he's still got a Spock/computer scientist/engineer's sort of brain, so really understanding each other well has been a gradual process. A couple of things have helped this. He is absolutely one of the best listeners I've ever met. He doesn't ever argue with me about how I'm feeling: if I tell him he said something that hurt my feelings, he accepts that and doesn't argue about it. He is absolutely ready to change his behavior once he knows it's hurting my feelings.

On my part, I admit when I'm wrong, I'm willing to try things his way sometimes, if it's not a big deal and he's absolutely convinced it's going to be more efficient to cut onions this way rather than that way, and if he tells me something I do bothers him, then I try and change too.

So, basically, I think you should sit down and talk to your boyfriend and tell him how rotten it makes you feel when he insists on being right all the time, and if he is truly sorry and starts changing his behavior, then maybe stick around for a little longer and see if it gets better. If he is not sorry, or promises to change and then does nothing, then I would seriously re-think your relationship.
posted by colfax at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

You don't give examples of your arguments, but I get the feeling this man is NOT a "loading-the-dishwasher" right-fighter as some are suggesting. I also get the feeling he is not just a "master-debator" who enjoys the sport of argument more than you do. Both of these types of men will generally curb this behavior if a partner he cares about says she's hurt.

I get the sense he's hurting your feelings, and when you bring it up, he twists it around and shoots it down and doesn't care about making you feel okay, as long as he gets to be right.

In my experience, the only time your partner should be telling you you're "taking it the wrong way" is if there is a genuine misunderstanding. (e.g., he says "The way you pronounce 'Moscow' drives me crazy" and you take "drives me crazy" to mean "annoyed" but he meant "drives me wild sexually.") But this should not be his default position when you bring up your feelings and opinions.

Is he the ultra-defensive type, unable to handle any type of criticism, and any legitimate grievance you bring up is treated as character assassination that must be immediately debated away rather than dealt with, because dealing with it would be admitting defeat? If so, a warning: I have known this type of man, I have wasted years of my life on this type of man, and it doesn't get better, it gets way worse.
posted by kapers at 10:26 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

All I know is that I personally want my close relationships to be with people who don't act the way your boyfriend acts. I used to have a boyfriend who was "always right" about everything - not just stuff he was actually right about, but as the relationship "progressed" it included stuff like how I did my job, what clothing I wore, my dietary choices, etc. Being always right in that situation was just a form of being in control.

No thanks. I now surround myself only with people who respect me and who let me be. I might ask you whether or not you think you should do the same.

It's hard to break up with someone you love but it's even harder to get worn down by someone who fundamentally won't listen to you, which is a form of just plain not respecting you as a person.
posted by sockermom at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was in a relationship like that and am now divorced. The problem, as others have articulated, is that this is fundamentally an ingrained habit (there is actually a biological basis for confirmation bias!) and not likely to change with any amount of "training."

At first, I didn't think anything of it because we seldom disagreed, and always about petty things. It took me a while to realize that his approach held constant, even when discussing larger, complex, and serious issues. Ask him if he's willing to work on or address this one issue, since it concerns your well-being. If he says "no," understand that this will be his approach to any disagreement for the duration of your relationship.
posted by blazingunicorn at 12:14 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed. 'Being right' isn't a teething problem, it's a much deeper relationship problem that may never change.

It's taken nearly 5 years of what I'd consider to be a happy marriage for us to make headway with it. While we rarely argue, my partner's refusal to apologize meant I built up years of resentments. I became argumentative for days after the initial fight. It wasn't until I reached this point, and neither of us were happy, that things started to change. We didn't want to be like this. We talked. Repeatedly.

In the end, it boiled down to me needing an apology to be able to move on. It's not so much about being right or wrong, but acknowledgement that (the perceived) situation sucked. It not easy for me to get an apology, but it's even more difficult for my partner to give one. Sometimes there are several false starts before I receive an apology. In theses moments, I find that I need to be firm in my request, and clear about what I need from her.

I think our relationship made it this far because we recognize that in heated moments, the argument is already lost. We do our best to communicate clearly and calmly before things escelate, or delay (not avoid!) discussion until we're both calm. However, we are both human, and are suceptable to acting out old behaviors.

When things are calm, we perform a postmortem of the argument to figure out: what went wrong, who feels what, what we can do better next time, and how we will move forward. Through these conversations my need for apologies became clear, and she works to meet it.
posted by bindr at 12:21 PM on February 26, 2015

I would ask if he is trying to find the right answer, or if he is just trying to eon the argument.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:53 PM on February 26, 2015

Okay I'll fess up that at points in my life, I have leaned this way. There might be some hope. Here's what I needed to hear:

1. When I got on the "but I'm right" train, sometimes I was wrong, and sometimes I might or might not have been right but it was shutting my partner down.

2. Shutting my partner down is a bad bad thing. A) Then say I am wrong and he doesn't correct me because he's exhausted and then I cross the gas line with a spark and boom and B) It damages the relationship. People are not in relationships to arrive at The Way Of The Right and be forever right together. People are in relationships to feel loved and supported and build a life together without feeling torn down and to share the full spread of human experience, involving being wrong and right and sad and happy and and and.

3. We needed a firm timeout phrase which means "we need to stop on factual discussion and move to relationship repair discussion."

4. I needed a lot of support to learn that being wrong is okay...but a lot of it came from therapy, not from him. Although he modelled it a lot admitting when he was wrong.

Having said all that...I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with someone who didn't recognize that this is a core relationship problem and who was working on it. If you need permission to say this is a dealbreaker, internet stranger me says it totally is a legit one.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:47 PM on February 26, 2015

Life's too short for this crap. DTMFA.
posted by caryatid at 3:30 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're getting a lot of great advice above. I just wanted to write in to say that I am married to someone who is NOT an "I'm always right" type of person, and it is SO MUCH BETTER than being chained to someone who sees every disagreement/mistake as a zero-sum game. Especially since I can fall into a gender-normative "blame myself for everything, just to make everything ok" role anyway, which it sounds like you may fall into as well. We don't need an extra layer of gaslighting over our pre-existing struggles with confrontation, thank you very much!

Marriage brings so many new challenges, bumps, opportunities to make mistakes/be wrong/misunderstand one another... don't make it harder by picking a mate whose response to these realities is to blame you for "not handling it well" and defend himself instead of owning up to his own mistakes and figuring out a solution. There are lots of people out there who do not get defensive and insensitive when there is a disagreement with their partner. If it's causing you enough frustration that you've asked strangers on the Internet for help, and this seems to be deeply ingrained into his personality, DTMFA.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

An ex- said of me that I had to always be right. I say the same of him. State your own opinion, let him state his, and disengage. Don't beat it to death. Work hard to make sure you understand him, try to see his point of view. Expect him to do the same for you. If you get to the point where you feel that not only does he have to be right, but that he requires you to be wrong, well, then you're done.

It took me a long time to learn that I could disengage, walk away, decline to continue a fight. I'd feel really unheard and need to overexplain, which was a total waste of time.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 PM on February 26, 2015

There's a difference between him needing to be "always right" and him needing you to be "always wrong". The first is possible to work with; the second, not so much.

My husband and I are both very "but these are the facts!!" kind of people. It helped us to realize that either of us could be right without the other having to be wrong. Very few issues are entirely black and white, and we're not even agreeing to disagree, we're agreeing that the thing we're talking about has a lot of valid solutions, and that his solution doesn't have to be my solution. If he drives us somewhere, he can take whatever route he wants and park the car wherever he wants; it took me a while to learn to shut up about the fact that I would do it differently.
posted by aimedwander at 7:39 AM on February 27, 2015

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