There is a magic phrase – three little words – that can help keep a marriage alive. They give us an extra spring in our step, an extra zest for life, and a feeling of connection with our life’s partner. It’s one of life’s magic gifts that feels wonderful, but costs nothing.
It’s not ‘I love you’. Those words are beautiful, necessary – and obvious. We need to hear this; but also, try saying this:
‘You were right.’
Aaaaaaahhh, it’s so goooood.
In a life partnership, we get a front row seat to the gifts and foibles of our partners. We try to help and support them, even when we know they are wrong. (Especially when they are wrong.)
Sometimes they listen, often they don’t. That’s when we find ourselves sitting in the passenger seat as they drive off the metaphorical cliff of crazy in ways big or small.
Sometimes these are tiny things – whether the lid of a ketchup bottle needs to be held down while shaking it is an ongoing bone of contention in our house. (Guess which side I am on? :-)) Sometimes these are much bigger things, where we watch the person we love make life choices that leave them exhausted, stressed, or unhappy – completely ignoring our brilliant advice.
In any partnership, disagreement is inevitable. (Otherwise it’s not a partnership. It’s customer service.) We will and should find ourselves on both sides of the equation.
It’s whether we can handle that disagreement with grace – and the realisation that we have been wrong with humility – that sets apart the really connected relationships.
Earlier today, we invited some colleagues of Zach’s over to the house. They are wonderful people and I had the loveliest day with them. The party prep was mostly fun, but there was a brief moment where things got a little carried away.
Zach is a creative, passionate cook, and they day before the party I found myself in a conversation where he was contemplating scrapping the menu we had mapped out (which involved a heavy portion of purchasing prepared food) to throw together something more ‘exciting’.
While in our pre-baby, pre-cancer, moved-int-our-house days, the idea of ‘just throwing something together’ that actually involves hours of prep would have been a doable thing, that is not the reality we are living in.
It came from a wonderful place of wanting to make sure everyone had a good time, and is also I suspect partially genetically inherited, because when his parents throw a party they go all out!
So yesterday, it was my job to talk him off the ledge and convince him that the lemon garlic chicken he dismissed as too simple would actually be a big hit, and we can whip up something more exotic for next time. (And more importantly, that it was bonkers to try to make this happen with no childcare during available prep time and the chaotic state of our lives at this given moment.)
It was such a wonderful feeling when he looked me in the eye today and said ‘you were right’
And you know why it was easy for him to say it?
Because I needed to say that exact same thing to him yesterday.
And again tonight.
It’s more fun to focus on the times when we are right. But often, we are wrong.
I certainly was earlier this evening.
There was a giant plastic bin I was sure wouldn’t fit on the bookcase, it would be too heavy, it would be a hazard for Rose, etc. Zach said ‘let me try’.
Unsurprisingly, his instincts were spot=on. It wasn’t too wide, it wasn’t too heavy, and it was actually a brilliant solution to free up our cramped kitchen. I was delighted to give him a big smile and say ‘you were right’.
It’s obviously nice to hear these words, but the surprising bit is that it can feel great to say them as well.
It’s a time to bear witness to our partner’s cleverness, forward-thinking, or practicality. It’s a time to acknowledge the ways they look out for us, course-correct for the path we have chosen, and just generally use their different perspective to enrich our shared lives. It’s a chance to be vulnerable, admitting our own shortsightedness, and be met with love.
A caveat: tone is very important. On both sides.
For the person hearing the words, gloating is strictly off limits. Visible pleasure in one’s own ‘rightness’ is allowed, but rubbing it in or saying ‘I told you so’ is bad taste and mean-spirited to boot. Likewise, while a moment of celebration is certainly called for, but then they need to let it g0 – not hoard the mistake as something to be brought up repeatedly to rub into the other person’s face.
It’s perhaps even more important to be mindful about how we say the phrase ‘you were right’.
These words should be a gift, given with humour and humility. Saying it with resentment, embarrassment at being in the wrong, or grudgingly is pointless. Better to just keep quiet.
Before you utter these words – take a moment to yourself. It’s important to be in a place where you can laugh and shrug, rather than fixate or get bogged down in self-recriminations.
Remember that we all make mistakes, and that you are lovable even without being perfect.
And then take a deep breath, and smile. You are about to make your partner’s day.