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When “You’re Wrong” Also Means “I Love You”

bride and groom dancing

In our wedding vows, Brian and I each vowed (a slightly personalized version of) the following:

Brian, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated, and give you the respect you deserve. I promise to maintain your trust with my words and actions. I promise to always be your partner in crime and adventure, your lover, your sounding board, your co-pilot, your sous-chef, your copyeditor, and your friend. I will tell you when you are wrong and help you to find a righter way, without making excuses or rescuing you. I will respect your boundaries. I will pack light. I will help you figure out how you feel. I will pay attention and give you time. I will listen, both to what you say, and to what you don’t say. I promise to always share what’s in my heart, even if I am afraid. I will strive to be my best self for you.

The part about telling each other when we are wrong cracked everyone up. I was surprised that it got such a hearty guffaw—we hadn’t planted it for comedy. I think people were laughing because of the common stereotype of wife as Nag. But I knew what we really meant, and how that line was one of the more important roles we could entrust to one another. We were vowing to assume the guardianship of each other’s highest potential.

When I was younger (and more insecure), I was endlessly hungry for affirmation and being called out felt humiliating and threatening. The truth was that inside I was so afraid that I was going to be discovered at any moment for the fraud I really was… being affirmed provided a momentary sense of relief from the fear—until I needed another hit. Having a boyfriend criticize me would have been devastating.

I still like affirmation as much as the next girl (Do you like my outfit? Do you really like it? No, but do you really and truly like it?) but over the years I have gotten more skilled at taking feedback without being gutted and then twisting the knife. Perhaps it has something to do with living longer and making so (very) many mistakes. Perhaps it has something to do with releasing my addiction to arbitrarily determined measures of success and slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am not a fraud after all.

It will always be humbling to be wrong and called on it, but one of the best parts about being married to Brian is that I know he deeply loves me for who I really am (and for the best version of myself that he always sees lurking under the surface when lesser versions present themselves). If he thinks I’m doing something wrong, he likely has a good reason for thinking that, and I need to know what that is. I need him to keep me accountable to my best self. Sometimes that means he doesn’t take my bitchy no for an answer (e.g., when I’m feeling cranky about going to the gym). He’s been known to suggest that I take a “time out” (e.g. when doing homework with my daughter gets a little rough on both of us), or gently tell me that I am doing my best to be unhappy, when in fact, our life is marvelous, and that I should get grateful. In fact, he’s the one who snapped me out of the “I’m a fraud” syndrome when he said (very lovingly), “Honey, if you’re a fraud then it means that deep inside you think the rest of us are so stupid that we could be duped into thinking you’re fabulous… That’s pretty arrogant when you really think about it.” Um, wow… Touché.

In short, I trust him to tell me when I’m wrong, and to help me find a better way.

I respect the way Brian lives his life, the choices he makes, and the person he more deeply becomes the longer I know him. He is a thoughtful one. But every once in a while I think he’s veering off course a bit, and I let him know. And I’m fully committed to helping him find a better way. Better is not necessarily my way, but a better version of his own way.

Once I finished reading my vows, Brian read his, which were pretty much the same. In hindsight, he wishes that he had been quick enough on his feet to replace the planned line with this crack:

“In the unlikely event that it should temporarily appear that you could be mistaken, I will supply further information and allow you to clarify your position, making it obvious that you were, in fact, right all along.”

But I’m secretly glad he stuck to the original. Sometimes, “honey you’re wrong” is the truest and deepest way to say “I love you.”

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