I’m not at all proud of it, but I’m a descendant of many generations of folk who HATE to lose—especially if it’s argument. I used to dismiss it, by referring to myself as simply having a “naturally competitive streak.” My wife, kids, friends, and colleagues have referred to me “argumentative,” “stubborn,” “gotta be right” and “having to get the last word.” Years ago, I decided to call it what they call it. I am now a “recovering debater.” Thank God, I’m not as bad as I used to be. I’m learning to shut my mouth, after the first declaration, instead of needing to re-declare the same thing the 5th or 6th time. And, if there is going to be a winner, I’m resisting the “need” to always be it. I’m better, but I’m not there yet. I was encouraged by progress and convicted by how far I’ve got to go, when I was working on this article:
Today, or at some point in the near future soon, you will find yourself in a disagreement with the man in your life. It’ll be about some issue that really, really matters to you, and you two have are arguing passionately about. Now, you’re (both) starting to get ticked-off. It’s then that you are likely to feel an overwhelming “need” to shut down the debate by getting in the last word.
You’ll feel certain that you—and you alone—know exactly what to say to trump what he’s already said. Every fiber of your being—your will, your vocabulary, and your powers of persuasion—will be poised and ready to straighten him out about the matter, once and for all.
As much as we all love bringing conflicts to a conclusion, we love it even more when we end getting in the last word—that snappy statement that promises to settle everything. That when you’ll use your slickest-sounding words and most sarcastic tone, to make sure you aren’t left sounding wrong, dumb, or weak. In relationships, having the last word feels like a guarantee that you’ve won the battle.
But having to “win,” all the time, costs your relationship way too much.
It momentarily makes you, and the man in your life, opponents who are determined to defeat each other. Having to have the last word requires you to forego loving self-sacrifice to seek the selfish pleasure of victory instead.
When we’re feeling insecure, it’s easy to become obsessed with having our way. We opt for quick, uncontested victories, even at your mate’s expense.
Forcing the last word is NOT about trying to clarify your views. It’s really about advancing your own agenda by defeating the “opposing” one. It is not done so much to resolve your differences, as it is to assert your perceived “rights” and re-establish your superior image.
Those who secretly struggle with feelings of weakness strive to be seen as strong. They rely upon words to cast an intimidating shadow over their mates in order to appear wise, self-assured, and strong.
How? By turning the tables and letting the risk of being diminished, become your mate’s rather than your own. By using witty, stinging retorts, challenge-proof declarations, an authoritarian tone, or a condescending dismissal: “This is ridiculous. I don’t want to hear any more about it.” Thus, the last word has been spoken, and it was yours.
To give up your rights to the last word is an exceptional act of self-sacrifice. There you stand, behind an imposing attitude fortress, intimidating and wordy weapons in hand. However, you elect not to use them, realizing that a loving relationship with your mate is far more important than who is right. Insisting on having the last word makes your mate an adversary instead of a partner.
Adversaries and competitors can never reach a level of trust, which will build lasting intimacy. At some point in the argument, at least one of you must be willing to wave that white flag of surrender.
Next time, what if you shock him—and yourself—by being the one who does?