Defensiveness in Relationships: Are you feeling attacked?
Welcome to Part Three of my blog on healthy communication. This entry focuses on defensiveness in relationships. The first two segments focused on criticism and contempt, respectively. While criticism is a way of communicating, contempt includes harmful thoughts and behaviors that attack a person’s core. Both can become increasingly toxic to any relationship. In Part Three we will discuss defensiveness in relationship.
Defensiveness is a reaction to a perceived attack.
The attack most likely feels very real, however it is more likely that our reaction puts us in defense mode versus the actual conflict. Sometimes that perceived attack comes in the form of criticism. However, responding defensively does not help solve the issue. Defensiveness in relationships can look like taking a victim stance. In addition, it may be responding with another complaint that blames your partner. For example, “It’s not fair that ….” and “It’s not my fault that we are always late, you are the one that takes forever to get ready.” Some other examples of defensiveness in relationships are:
- Justifying and rationalizing without taking responsibility. “I did ____because you did ____.”
- Using external factors to make excuses for your behavior. “The train is always slow which makes me late getting home.”
- Agreeing but disagreeing. “Yes, but______.”
The real issue here is that communicating with defensiveness in relationships inhibits mutual responsibility. In any relationship each partner plays a role in healthy communication. Attempting to protect ourselves from a perceived attack by responding defensively revokes any ownership on our part in the situation. Which simply is not the case. There is always an opportunity for us to look at what role we play in conflict.
In order to begin to form new healthy communication patterns, we have to be willing to take ownership and responsibility for our part. The remedy for defensiveness in relationships is looking taking responsibility during conflict, as well as hearing our partner’s complaint. For example, “I understand you are frustrated that it seems we are always late. I will try to catch an earlier train so I can get home earlier.”
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Defensiveness in relationships is often more about our own insecurities than the actual conflict. Meeting conflict with conflict has never solved anything. I encourage you to practice listening to your partner’s needs, reflecting on where you can take responsibility, and responding with compassion. This is where you have control. With practice, you may experience powerful changes in your communication and your internal feelings around conflict.
Learn more about re-establishing a healthy bond and overcoming conflict and defensiveness in relationships here.
In addtion, I highly recommend Dr. Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight”. http://www.drsuejohnson.com/books