Secrets to Managing Defensiveness in Relationship

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Partner A: “Ok… look at this mess! I thought you said you were going to do the dishes?!”
Partner B: “Do you have any idea what kind of day I’ve had? I don’t need this right now.”
Partner A: “Well, I wouldn’t have to yell at you about it if you’d just do them in the first place.”
Partner B: “You don’t have to yell at me at all. If it bothers you that much why don’t you just do them yourself or stop looking at them or something. You make it so much worse for yourself.”
(Cue: explosion)


When you express your feelings to someone, you feel better when they respond with something along the lines of, “I don’t think I could care any less than I do right now,” right? Nope. You’re absolutely right. When you tell someone how you feel, it’s usually because you’re hoping that the two of you will connect in some way.


There are plenty of ways to communicate feelings, some more provocative than others. The provocative deliveries can make it tempting to snap back with a defensive answer. Even calm approaches to expressing feelings can be met with a defensive response. Bottom line- it’s not that hard to become defensive.


Statements used in defense can be made with a few different undertones- criticism, deflection, blame, contempt, and rejection. They convey ideas like; “You’re wrong for feeling like this,” “My experience is more important than yours,” “Your dissatisfaction is your fault,” “Your needs make me angry,” and “This is your problem. Deal with it”. These are tough ideas to sit with, especially when you’re sharing your feelings.


I’m not saying it’s ideal to come home from a long day and be met with instant need; I know most of us would rather relax. It’s also not ideal to get into an argument and feel disconnected from your partner. Defensiveness is an efficient way to engage an argument and reduce intimacy!


So, what can you do instead? For starters, you can take a few moments before you answer. Think about what they might be experiencing. Do they seem overwhelmed? Insecure? Lonely? Scared? Understanding the need that someone is communicating to you can make it a little easier to respond with empathy.


Partner A: “Ok… look at this mess! I thought you said you were going to do the dishes?!”
Partner B: “You’re right; I did. I’m sorry I haven’t done them yet. I had such a long day that all I wanted to do is come home and relax.”
Partner A: “My days are long, too. We still have to help out; otherwise, things start to pile up.”
Partner B: “I guess I didn’t really think about the impact it has on you.”
Partner A: “Sorry I attacked you. I’ve just been feeling so overwhelmed…”
Partner B: “I definitely don’t want to add to that. I guess we’ve both been feeling overwhelmed.”


A little empathy can go a long way. While this conversation isn’t over, it is on the right track. By being open to what your partner is trying to tell you, you create a safe place for both of you to express challenges without blame or judgment.


Dealing with challenges can be scary and assuaging fear is a lot easier to do in an environment of empathy. Ditch the defense.


Love and Be Loved,


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