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The one question that defuses most marital spats



Sarah Robsdottir - published on 11/04/18

Because having peace is often better than being right.

“What if I’m wrong?”

The shocking thought popped to mind as I was desperately kneeling in prayer. My husband had stomped out the door and no resolution to our fight had been found.

The voice in my head must have been the Holy Spirit’s, because I – like my husband – am always right. Always. Fortunately, the still, small voice kept probing:

“What would you do next if you are wrong – or even if you aren’t?”

So I sent my husband a text – “I love you” – because love is an act of the will, a choice – not just a feeling (that’s what I always tell my kids anyway). And pretty soon, my husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking through our disagreement. [Note: this was a common but painful argument; no emotional or physical abuse occurred, and I mention this because if you’re facing problems of a severe nature, seek professional help. The following advice of performing careful self-introspection will only bring more peace to an otherwise healthy marriage.]

When I mentioned this spat to a friend and described how it came to a surprisingly quick resolution, when I shared with her how the outcome was delightful and different from other fights, how it demanded humility from both spouses because just as soon as I expressed my own specific failures, my husband – quite to my surprise – did the same, my wise friend quoted the famous TV psychologist Dr. Phil:

“Well yeah,” she said, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?’”

Her statement brought to mind a practice Dr. Jordan Peterson, the popular University of Toronto Psychology professor and author of the bestselling book 12 Rules for Life, suggests. Peterson explains that anytime he and his wife of 30 years have an argument, they stop talking, go into separate rooms and they do not return until each of them can come up with at least one failure that led to the disagreement. Peterson’s sentiment here is almost identical to Dr. Phil’s:

“… You must decide whether you want to be right or if you want to have peace.” (12 Rules for Life, p. 357)

Peterson’s advice was actually rattling around in my mind as I knelt in prayer the day of the previously mentioned argument (actually, his awesome book is on my nightstand, so I’d only read it a day or two before). And as I pondered that morning’s fall-out, I realized I’d contributed to the disagreement not by what I’d done, but in what I’d failed to do (we confess these sins of omission every week in Mass because they’re real and they really do have consequences).

“Here’s where I went wrong,” I shocked my husband when he returned home after my text, “I didn’t start the day in prayer. I didn’t say ‘good morning’ to you or give you a hug. Actually, I totally ignored you even though you were frazzled and needed help finding paperwork and keys and something to eat. You probably felt deserted, like you were starting your day with a real lack of love and support. I’m really very sorry.”

My husband was stunned.

“But I shouldn’t have freaked out,” he replied immediately, “I shouldn’t have blamed you for stuff. I’m sorry too.”

A mind open to one’s own failures quite often leads to hearts open to forgiveness, kitchen tables full of laughter and, most importantly, a more peaceful state of married life.


Read more:
Do separate bathrooms lead to happier marriages?

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