defensiveness Posts

Enter the Gate of Possibility in Your Relationship

In our relationships, we sometimes see a door before us that we somehow know we need to walk through but we can’t seem to do it. It may be attractive to us like the one in this picture but we resist doing the walking through. Let me give you some examples that will help you to understand.

For instance, when we hear ourselves being immediately defensive when our partner is trying to tell us something that is negative. We know inside we are being unreasonably reactive but we don’t change our patterns, taking things seriously and learning a new way.

We know we need to work on some form of emotional management to conquer our anxiety that negatively impacts the relationship but we let it slide or normalize it. We have reasons for our anxiety that are from our past. We don’t conquer our feelings. We feed them.

We feel sluggish and unfit and our partner gives us hints to get healthier but we put it off. It’s not time, its too hard.

We know we are increasingly thinking and choosing in “I” terms instead of “we” terms with our partner – we may even feel guilty but we continue to do the same thing. We feel the distance we are creating but we don’t do anythng about it.

We find ourselves turning away from our partner instead of turning towards them, correcting, fixing and being negative to his/her new ideas. We know we are squashing their spirit but we continue.

We know we have an anger issue that creates insecurity in the relationship but we continue to justify our challenges. It is about justice, it is righteous anger.

We are behaving like roommates in our relationship. We rarely make love. I wait for a signal and don’t take responsibility for engagement. We become more disconnected.

We rarely look at the cost in lost opportunity to feel great and congruent within ourselves when we continue in a pattern that is less then ideal. The possibility of a loving connection that we truly long for when we do not let go of our self protection and walk through the door is lost to us. We are often steadfastly clinging to our old behaviors without examination or thoughts of change. Sometimes these patterns come from deep within our past and feel so automatic. This does not mean that we cannot move that default position we have been practicing. The first step in the practice of courage is to make the decision to make a change. Then ask your partner how it might make a difference in the relationship if you made a change in an area you feel like you need to. Don’t waste an awesome day! Consider starting today! Go forth and be wonderful!

Tips for Getting out of the Criticism Contempt Loop

Being in the middle of a criticism contempt loop is so hard on couples. Gottman’s research shows that it is a direct cause of the break up of a relationship. The party who is the “criticizer” feels so justified and will often ask friends to affirm their thoughts and feelings. They have amassed a story that makes the other person unworthy to be alive and they may make a psychological diagnosis for their partner (my favorite). Their partner in return becomes defensive and then depending on their attachment style, avoids their partner, leaves the situation or moves in to the relationship intensely to ‘prove’ they are not that person. And the loop goes on.

People have often chosen a partner that is somewhat like one of their parents ¬†and may be triggered by this criticism defensive loop. Even if their partner is not being harsh in their criticism, they may have been triggered by both the past and the present feelings in the interaction which causes greater wounding and a bigger response. If the criticizer has grown up with criticism, they will often not understand how often they are actually criticizing and how much they are responsible for crushing their partner’s spirit. So what are some ways to get out of this loop?

1. When your partner has spoken and you feel a big response to their words, assume that you have been triggered by something in your past as well as the present. Take responsibility for your big reaction. Do not blame or hold your partner responsible.

2. Take a time out for approximately 25 minutes in order to calm your physiology. It takes that long to calm emotional flooding. Make sure that you have let your partner know that you will return to your discussion after the time out. Do not think about the comments during that time.

3. Come back into the discussion with an attitude of curiosity. What is your partner trying to say to you? What is their message? Check it out. Let them correct you so that you can gain a much better understanding of what they are trying to say.

4. After understanding your partner well, let them know what you are thinking and feeling. Let them know of your vulnerability to criticism and thank them for helping you with a time out so that you could avoid defensiveness.

5. Have a discussion about trigger words for you both and areas of conversation that can lead to defensiveness. Do not avoid these areas but understand each other’s vulnerabilities and how you can speak more carefully. Download the pithy little rule book for satisfying marital conversations on the right side of this website in order to understand words that are more sensitive.

Do the above diligently, until you can successfully mange conversations that are sensitive. The rewards are that you will feel understood, that you will feel you can understand your partner and that your connection will feel strengthened.