The Power of Being Wrong: How Owning My Mistakes Improved My Relationship
“I’m stupid, you’re smart,” Happy Gilmore admits to his mentor, Chubbs Peterson. “I was wrong, you were right. You’re the best, I’m the worst. You’re very good-looking, I’m not attractive.”
I generally wouldn’t seek a role model in a fictitious character played by Adam Sandler who once took off his skate and tried to stab somebody, but aside from the excessive groveling, Happy offers a shining example of a guy genuinely admitting he’s in the wrong.
I’ve had to do plenty of that recently with my partner, Kristen.
After a simple Google search: “You’re right, Danny Devito did direct Matilda.” And after a glance at Google Maps: “My bad, Hoyt Street is the other way.”
With both cases, I was wrong, she was right. She was the best, I was the worst. She was very good-looking, I was not attractive. (Just kidding, we both still looked great.)
On a different occasion, Kristen and I were in the car discussing some of her frustrations with work. Things got tense to the point that I thought she was being stubborn and defeatist; she thought I was being presumptuous and unempathetic. I dropped her off at home, and while the conversation was clearly over, there wasn’t any type of resolution.
It was the next day when she asked if we could revisit the matter. With an open ear and a commitment to humility, I really listened — both to her professional frustrations, as well as her frustration with how I’d failed to be patient and supportive during our talk. A Google search wasn’t needed to confirm I’d messed up there.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “Instead of inserting my own feelings, I should have provided more space for you to share yours. And instead of jumping to conclusions, I should have worked to fully understand where you were coming from, and shown up with the validation you needed in that moment. I’ll definitely do better going forward.”
Previous versions of myself in past relationships may have dug my heels into a position of denial and defensiveness, choosing to later sulk towards the freezer for some frozen peas to nurse my bruised ego. But learning to own (and even embrace) my mistakes has blazed a better trail forward for our relationship, and it’s something all men could benefit from if they find themselves in a similar situation to mine.
“Admitting that you are wrong and taking accountability is courageous and vulnerable,” says Jessica Ketner, MS, IMFT, an independent marriage and family therapist based in Columbus, Ohio. “The practice of accountability and owning your actions and behaviors creates space for forgiveness, releasing resentments, receiving a compassionate and connected response from your partner and [building] an atmosphere of trust and support.”
That’s not to say it’s an easy thing to do. There are plenty of factors that make it challenging for partners to concede when they’ve made a mistake, such as if admitting fault creates a sense of shame, which fosters an avoidance of accountability.
Our upbringing is another major influence on our behavior in adult relationships.
“If you did not see your parents admit wrongdoing to each other or to you — because it can be immensely powerful when parents admit to their children that they did not handle a situation in the best way — it can feel scary or foreign to do so,” notes Ketner.
For some folks, she continues, making mistakes in childhood or previous relationships led to traumatic experiences like abuse or emotional abandonment, which conditions them to avoid admitting wrongdoing as a way to protect themselves. Some romantic relationships, meanwhile, don’t foster the kind of trust and access to vulnerability needed for partners to admit when they’re wrong.
An additional challenge here can be owning up when you’ve wronged your partner, even when you didn’t mean to.
“Sometimes it is hard for people to admit that their actions were hurtful, if they did not intend to hurt their partner,” says Ketner. “It is important to not minimize or dismiss your partner’s feelings by hiding behind your intent. If you first make space for apology, empathy and repair, there can often be a [later] time to share that you did not intend to hurt them.”
I hadn’t intended to diminish Kristen’s feelings or experiences, but that’s what happened. And while we seek forgiveness from our partners, Ketner encourages us to go a step further by extending compassion to ourselves, too.
“It is important to know and remember that you are human,” she tells AskMen. “And the human experience includes making mistakes or not always making the wisest, most compassionate decisions.”
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