What if You are Partly Right? Implications for Relationships and Life

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

So many of the intense couple arguments that I listen to in my office are fueled by the self righteous insistence that “my perspective, or my recollection, or my motivation… is right”. The more that we lock into this question of who is right, or who remembers correctly, the more the argument escalates. Giving in becomes impossible, and self awareness decreases. In the end, no one wins and distance increases; both are left feeling hopeless, wounded, and frustrated.

Thich Nhat Hahn, the late buddhist monk, offers a wonderful alternative perspective: “You are partly right”. This perspective brings both humility and potentially curiosity to an otherwise impossible negotiation. So many interpersonal battles could go very differently if we adopted the mantra “you are partly right’. Consider several examples:

Depth psychologists and contemplatives, like Thomas Merton or the great novelist Dostoyevsky, suggest that there is much that we do not understand about our motivations, or even our idea of who we are. When we conclude we understand ourselves or those we are in relationship with, we make quality relationships difficult and end the possibility of transcendence that Buber talked about.

So as we begin 2024, start with the assumption of Thich Nhat Hahn: “you are partly right!” Move toward curiosity and ask questions to move away from “knowing”. Embrace mystery and allow for discovery. Move away from quick judgements or putting people in categories. Let yourself live in the unknown with curiosity about it and see what you end up learning about yourself, your partner, your children, and the world around you.