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April 18, 2006

DEFENSIVENESS IN COUPLES

A key killer in relationships is defensiveness. If I get defensive every time my partner comes to me about something he doesn’t like, eventually he’s going to give up, blow up or bubble over with frustration and resentment. The same is true if he gets defensive with me. It is a recipe for divorce.

Being defensive is detrimental because it allows no room for repair, compromise or solutions. It‘s a way of walling ourselves off to our partner. Ironically the things we get the most defensive about are the things we need to hear the most. Who are we to think that we never do anything wrong? Perhaps if we learned to be more open to hear about our faults, our partner would be more willing to talk about our strengths.

If our partners are struggling with something we did, then it’s our job to hear them and try to help. We all want to be heard and listened to; this is no different for our partners. We certainly are not going to help the relationship by defending, rationalizing and minimizing our mistakes - - that only results in our partners being more adamant about our faults.

This leads to a crazy dance that looks something like: the more Scot points out Suzy’s faults, the more she defends and minimizes her actions; the more Suzy defends and minimizes her actions the more adamantly Scot points out her faults. This dance can go on incessantly until either Suzy owns up to her behavior and apologizes or Scot gives up or blows up. Suzy owning her part has a much better long term out come. We all make mistakes the trick is acknowledging them, apologizing and not repeating them.

When we listen to what our partners would like us to do differently and give them what they ask, it can be healing for both of us. Imagine if our partners did the same for us…what a gift!

Challenge: The next time your partner talks to you about something you did that they didn’t like, throw them a curve ball - - Listen, apologize and agree to do it differently in the future.


Comments

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Lisa I love your blog...good solid clear enjoyable...a breath of fresh air....thank you...sherri

Dear Sherri: You're very welcome. Thank you for the kind feedback. So glad you like it!
Lisa

GRRRRRReat TIPs!!!!

I have written to you before re: defensiveness. I am having trouble trusting my new husband. I feel as though he is controlling and has to be right. I am defensive and feel as though I have a right to be whenever he accuses me of something. I have read articles, books, etc. and can't seem to find the answer. He doesn't want to go to a counselor, he feels that I should be able to work things out with my husband. Now, he has trust issues. I am selfish and don't take his feelings into account whenever we have an arguement. He says he wants deep relationship with me and that I am damaging that. He says it appears I do not want a meaningful deep relationship where we are vulnerable to each other. I am feeling lost. Please help. Lisa
LISA'A REPLY:
Dear Lisa,
It sounds like neither one of you is listening to the other. Because you cannot control your partner, I suggest you work on your part of this equation first. Listen to his feedback and ask for clarity around what you are doing that he believes is damaging the relationship.

Once you gain clarity on what he is saying, I would own any piece that you believe is true. For example, acknowledge that you see how you get defensive at times. Next, apologize for that behavior and commit to work on it now and in the future.

At a different time, I would be clear with him that you are unhappy. Let him know that you would be willing to work things out with him, outside of counseling, if he is willing to listen to your concerns and agree to work on them also. If he is not willing to do this, let him know that it is, and will continue to, harm your relationship.

When he behaves in controlling ways or moves into being right in the future, point this behavior out to him and request that he stop. If he refuses to stop in the moment then simply tell him you would be happy to have this conversation when he is willing to talk to you as an equal partner and stop telling you what to do or forcing his thinking onto you. After you state this, walk away. Do this everytime he moves in control or being right. First, make a request that he change it, next, set a limit and finally end the conversation or take a time out.

I also recommend you read my post on boundaries and concentrate on strengthening your boundaries while you make these changes.

Take care-Lisa

Lisa I love your blog...good solid clear enjoyable...a breath of fresh air....thank you...sherri

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