Jessica has a great memory for details and enjoyed sharing adventures with her husband. She was shocked when he asked for a divorce–she had no idea how unhappy he was. Only after he filed the papers did she understand that there was no big event that changed their relationship, but a series of small episodes. For example, when out with friends, her husband enjoyed sharing stories about the trips he and Jessica had taken. Jessica often corrected the small mistakes he made and she was usually right. When he complained, she explained she was just helping him get it right. She didn’t see that as a problem.
In general Jessica focused on being right. That style hurt her relationship. In the short term she usually proved her point and had some satisfaction in that. Her intention wasn’t to push her husband away. But it didn’t matter that he was wrong and she was right about the facts. When she repeatedly corrected him, he enjoyed her company a little less. His experience was that she belittled him.
If your focus is on who is right and who is wrong, there are many situations where what is right will not be effective. Being effective is about knowing what works and what gets you closer to your goals. If Jessica wanted to strengthen and maintain her relationship with her husband, then her behavior wasn’t effective. To be effective, you have to know what your goals are.
To be effective in your choices, you also have to understand what the reality is. Thinking you have paid all the taxes you owe and that your income from babysitting shouldn’t count makes no difference to the IRS. To be effective, you have to know the facts.
To be effective, sometimes you have to consider the views of others. If your goal is to keep relationships with those you love, then dividing an inheritance based on what you think is fair will not work if your brothers and sisters don’t agree. If your goal is to have certain items from that inheritance regardless of what the rest of the heirs think, then you will make a different choice on how to proceed than if you cherish the relationships.
It’s easy to get caught in a win/lose frame of mind. Maybe you get so focused on proving your point that you forget that winning an argument is not worth hurting the feelings of those you love. Sometimes we think that being right means the other person should not be upset. Think back to the times you have had disagreements and proven yourself right. Being right doesn’t help the person feel better about the interaction. Though you can say you didn’t do anything wrong, you still risked a friendship with someone you cared about. Maybe you did lose it.
Acting on what is right can sometimes be immediately ineffective. If you have the right of way at an intersection but another car pulls in front of you, the most effective action would be to give up the right of way. There are times to stand up for what is right and other times to let annoyances go. A car cutting in front of you is not one of the times to make a stand. Yet lives are changed everyday in undesirable ways when people act from a stance of being right versus doing what works. I know many who wish they could go back in time and change an action they took because they believed the other person was wrong.
Sometimes we don’t make effective decisions because we don’t think the situation is fair. If you think itis unfair for a college to make assignments over the summer, you may decide not to do the work. The result may be that you are not readmitted. Unless you wanted to be out of school, that choice was not an effective one.
Sometimes acting on what is right is also effective. Ask yourself if this action gets you closer to your goals whether spiritually, morally, educationally, in your career, or in your relationship.
Repeatedly making choices that are effective gets you closer to your goals and helps you lead a calmer life. In the moment, it can be difficult to do.
Linehan, M. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.
Note to Readers
Thanks to all of you who took the survey on loneliness. If you have not yet taken the survey and are emotionally sensitive, please consider answering the questions about understanding loneliness. I appreciate your time and your contribution to better understanding emotional sensitivity.