Bursting the Defensiveness Bubble for Couples

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The destructive ways of relating couples get into is tricky. Finger pointing often becomes a way of life. The reason why you're unhappy is certainly because of your partner. The reason why your partner is unhappy is certainly because of you. And so it goes.

Dr. John Gottman's research determined Defensiveness to be one of the Four Horsemen used by couples in trouble.

Defensiveness becomes part of the couple's Dance of Disaster. It is destructive. It can become a natural rhythm of the relationship. The Defensive Two-Step: Criticism/Defense - Comment/Defense - Action/Defense. Twirl your partner and dosey-doe as down the toilet the relationship goes!

Sometimes it becomes such a part of the relationship that it is almost like a hiccup - reflexive and habitual. And like a bad case of the hiccups, you wish you could just do something to stop the reflexive hiccup of defensiveness.

Defensiveness is often a response to criticism. But sometimes it isn't. At times your partner is making a request or trying to address an issue needed to improve the health of the couple. It's tricky to decide which is which. The best thing you can do is learn to Speak Non-Defensively. Some Not-So-Great ways of Defending Yourself
  • Rubber Band Man - "I know I did, but you...." Bounce right back at your partner!
  • Counter-Attack - Point out the last time they did the similar situation or just any failure of your partners
  • Change the Subject - Don't talk about the subject. Just change it.
  • Ask Questions & Make It About Them - "Why do you always bug me?" "Why can't you leave me alone?" "Why can't you be happy?" "You mean you're bringing that up again?"
Reasons Why We Defend Ourselves
  • Actually Being Criticized - That's right! It might seem obvious, but at times we respond defensively simply because we are being criticized. But this doesn't help us. There are healthy ways to respond. We all can learn different responses.
  • Fear of Being Blamed - This happens when the topic isn't anyone's fault. It also happens when it is someone's fault. You just feel like someone is going to be in trouble for it. You want to make certain that someone isn't you!
  • Stressed Out - You've come home. It was a hard day. Something is wrong a.g.a.i.n.! Oy! Responding defensively is the only way you can think of to avoid just another problem.
  • Resentment - There's a whole lot of things that you're unhappy about. You could bring up your list, too. Instead, you just want to tell the person to "Bug off and leave me alone!"

Ways To Burst The Defensiveness Bubble Between You Bubble

  • Breathe, Relax and Count Before Responding - If you start to listen to your body, you'll discover your heart rate often goes up before you React Defensively. Take some time. Breathe and literally count to 4 while breathing in; 4 while holding it; 4 while breathing out; and 4 while resting.
  • Intentionally Listen - We're back to the fact that it's "foolishness to respond without first listening to understand." Stop and intentionally listen to your partner.
  • Purposefully Respond in a Soft Tone - Responding with anger is just going to ramp things up. Soften you tone. Slow the whole conversation down.
  • Take a Time Out - If you are unable to listen without getting defensive, let your partner know you will need to take a time out. Set a limit to the time out. And get back with them when you've said you will.
It only takes one person to change the Dance of Disaster. You can do this. And when you do have an "oops," go back. Apologize for the "oops" of slipping back into the dance. Go back and listen.

Teach your partner a new way to dance and you will be surprised at the response you'll get!

What are the topics you are most likely to get defensive about? What are the times of day you are most likely to get defensive? Prepare yourself for those times and topics. Change the dance!

The above isn't professional counseling. It's good sound advice from a person who's been married, continues to be intentional about keeping the relationship healthy and is a professional therapist. If you would like help with your couple relationship, give me a call at 530-268-3558 or email me at kate@katepieperlmft.com.