The ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’ Argument in Couples Therapy

Couple arguingIt’s a classic. Of all the themes in the history of relational strife, the I’m Right, You’re Wrong story is by far the most common.

Like many things, we often take this argument for granted or overlook the magnitude of its influence. When couples enter into therapy together, it may be a hidden goal for each of them to convince their therapist that one of them is right and the other is wrong. They demonstrate this in many ways—either subtly or in more painfully blatant ways. By doing so, they hope to feel validated, and that feels good.

Being right gives you a rush of dopamine—the brain chemical associated with winning and victory. You may feel strong—even invincible. The problem with needing to be right is that if we hold it too tightly, it becomes a necessary component for feeling good in the relationship. Any time you are outsmarted, out-shouted, or out-whatever, you feel bad in the relationship. So if this is the game you’ve set up for yourself and for your partner, the relationship cannot logically thrive for both of you. When one is right, that partner is elevated to a higher power position and the other is knocked down a peg.

Effectively, this game creates division. We all want to be on the right side of the wall—not the wrong side. But that means your partner has to be on the wrong side. The more this dynamic is strengthened, the thicker that wall becomes, creating more division. You may feel nice and superior on your side of the wall, but you are drifting further and further from your partner. You become less connected, less caring, and may end up contributing less to the relationship.

If you are convinced you are not the problem, and it is your partner that needs fixing, how does clinging to this belief affect the way you treat them or your attitude toward them? In therapy, I am never going to argue whether or not something is true. I am only interested in what works. What is it going to take for you to increase intimacy, compassion, and loving action in your relationship? I’m guessing that being right hasn’t worked so well in the past. Let’s try something different.

The first step will be to knock down that wall. After all, it isn’t made of bricks and mortar, but simply attitudes and beliefs that you alone are holding in place. How do you knock it down? Simply let go of it. Loosen your grip on it, and you will start to see it crumble. Let it go completely, and it will completely disappear.

One way to do this is to give your story a name or a title. The next time it comes up, say to yourself, “Here goes I’m Right, You’re Wrong again.” By doing this simple exercise, it creates a cognitive space between you and your thoughts about being right. It is the difference between being right and just being while having the thought about being right. It may not sound like a huge shift, but try it. You may find it makes a big enough difference that you are not compelled to react in ways that you might have when you were fused to your beliefs about being right.

Put down your weapons, and take off your armor. Nature has endowed us with the proclivity to feel protected and safe, so stripping your defenses may feel vulnerable and weird. This is the part where you have the uniquely human freedom to make an important choice. Many will take a quick look at the prospect of being unguarded and will clench their armor even more tightly. Being vulnerable means you might get hurt. But how do you expect to be intimate while swathed from head to toe in battle armor? Intimacy is best experienced naked—physically and emotionally. Vulnerability is an essential part of being open and deeply connected, and it’s a risk. There’s no other way, but once you make the choice to get naked—so to speak—the rest can be pretty fun.

© Copyright 2011 by By Jiovann Carrasco, MA, LPC-S. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Michelle Mendoza

    July 27th, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    I completely agree with this article. Having a couple that is constantly competing rather then working together is a recipe for disaster.

  • nancy

    July 27th, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    have had this I’m right you’re wrong feeling a million times in each of my relationships so far but never knew why it happens or how to get over it.but having read your article I now have a fair idea of the concept and also the resolving of the problem.thank you for this.

  • Elizabeth T.

    July 27th, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Having people who cannot see that they have to be right and put another person in the “wrong” spot is very detrimental to therapy. I have seen it over and over again in my own practice. However, once a break through is made, progress seems to come quickly. I had one couple who only needed my help for another five sessions once the man realized his need to be right in every situation. Of course, it doesn’t always happen so easily, but it does seem to be an easier “fix” than some other problems I’ve come across.

  • Jane

    July 28th, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    husband always had to be right, nothing would do. i gave up a part of me for many years to make him happy in that respect and then one day you finally hit a wall and wonder what in the world you have been doing all this time.

    you don’t realize how much of yourself you sacrifice when you let someone else always drive and steer the relationship. a few arguments are ok when you are not willing to give up your sense of self that always allowing someone else to be right can cause.

  • ROSS T

    July 28th, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    “I’m right you’re wrong” happens with every couple in the world if you ask me.And why do they continue even after so many “I’m right you’re wrong”? Coz most often one of them is ready to give in to the other and is ready to take a little bit from the partner for the sake of the relationship. And when both partners are adamant? Well, heard of ‘divorce’, ‘separation’ and ‘fights’? Yeah!

  • Katerina

    July 28th, 2011 at 4:36 PM

    It’s easy to say I’m right n ur wrong but it takes a person with self-belief and self-esteem to actually analyse the situation from both their points of view.And such a person would make a wonderful partner for anybody.

  • Beth

    July 30th, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    I am so over feeling like I always have to be right. That is just a waste of my time. What I like even better than thinking that I am right all of the time is actually being able to rationalize and discuss things calmly with that other person and to know that together we either reached a great compromise or that we can work out a way to agree to disagree.

  • Charlie S

    July 31st, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    I’m always right except when I am wrong. My wife and I have had 15 happy years of marriage and to be honest i think the biggest thing is that neither of us have to be right all the time. As long as no one is getting hurt and we are staying close to the line of general agreement I don’t fight or argue. It’s just not worth it. When I do bristle my wife knows that something is amiss and takes a step back to verify whats going with the argument. If we fought all the time with both of us being right, then eventually we would reach the state where neither of us would ever be right.

  • wendy radford

    August 2nd, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    “I am never going to argue whether or not something is true. I am only interested in what works. ” Now that’s a tactic I need to adopt for sure. I admit I get caught up in wanting it to be acknowledged that I’m right when I know I am. I hadn’t thought about that distancing us. Thanks very much!

  • Jiovann

    August 3rd, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    Great comments everyone. Thanks for reading!

  • Shar Mitchell

    August 7th, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    The ones who have this mentality have likely gotten it from adults in their childhood.I don’t think that it’s as common as it used to be but it remains prevalent. When everybody’s shouting about being right, no-one’s listening. It’s a very destructive scenario.

  • Walt Rollins

    August 7th, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    We can afford to be wrong at times. We’re only human, so that is allowed.

    Why need so badly to be right that you are willing to jeopardize your relationship more than give in? If it’s going to rip it apart, you need to wonder if it’s worth being right at that moment and how much your relationship truly means to you.

  • Carl Stanley

    August 7th, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    I disagree that couples should cop out just to keep the peace. If you’re wrong, then you’re wrong and you need to accept that you’re wrong with grace and dignity. Throwing a tantrum over being told you’re wrong is childish. None of us are perfect and we only learn by our mistakes. There’s nothing weak about being wrong.

  • Michelle Mendoza

    August 9th, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    People are wrong at times, which is why people should really think long and hard about the person you are marrying before getting engaged.

  • Kelly Gilbert

    August 9th, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    When both sides maintain that they are right, and just get livid when told they are wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’ve known plenty of people that would be adamant they were in the right. They were so steadfast I could get God Himself down from Heaven and have Him tell them they were wrong and they wouldn’t budge an inch. Stubbornness runs in my family.

  • Suparna Biswas

    October 19th, 2011 at 5:58 AM

    Excellent article. I agree with you Jiovann. However, I have a query – one of the very common habits of human mind is to take things for granted. If I do not counter my partner’s wrongful attitude (which, I accept, indirectly gives message that I am right!), don’t you think there is a chance of getting emotionally abused in a male dominated society like India? It may be the case that my partner is just ignorant about the wrongfulness of his attitude because it is genetical or environmental effect. Isn’t it necessary to counter him? Yes, I appreciate that the counter needs to be made in a positive way or should be followed by natural compassion. If we can do that, we probably need not be vulnerable!

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