How to be less defensive in a relationship


Following on from my previous blog about the toxic effect defensiveness has in a relationship,  let’s look at how to stop being defensive.

Here’s a great example.

Partner A: “Did you call your friends to let them know we can’t go to dinner tonight like you promised me this morning?”

Defensive Partner B: “Oh seriously? I was so flat out and busy today with all the things I have to do. You know how stressed and busy my schedule is now! Why didn’t you just do it then?”

Partner B takes no responsibility for forgetting to do something they promised to do. Conflict escalates into blame and contempt because they blame their partner for their own breaking of a promise.

Solutions for defensiveness

Take responsibility

In a healthy relationship there isn’t room for this defensivenss. Partner B must learn to take responsbility for their mistake.

Partner A: “Did you call your friends to let them know we can’t go to dinner tonight like you promised me this morning?”

Partner B: “Sorry! I forgot to do it! I was so busy today I really should’ve asked you this morning if you could’ve done it. I will give them a call now!”

This is how a relationship works together as a team. Partner B recognises and acknowledges their part in the problem.

Don’t take complaints from your partner personally

If you find yourself reacting defensively to a complaint from your partner ask yourself:

Why am I getting defensive?

What am I trying to protect?

Remind yourself that this complaint is about your partners needs not about you.

Self Soothe

If you feel flooded and overwhelmed it is not about your partners words but about what personal meaning you are assigning to them.

Perhaps you are reacting thinking that they’re going to leave you, that this proves you’re a terrible person or projecting onto them the identity of a previous abusive person in your life onto them.

Self soothing means you can calm yourself in a state of emotional distress.
Sex therapist David Schnarch talks about how self soothing is stabilising one’s emotions and fears.

“We focus on developing self-soothing and self-validation because these abilities let us speak and hear difficult truths.”

How can you turn inward and access your own resources to regain your emotional balance and comfort without falling into excessive indulgences or compulsive behaviours?

As you can develop more awareness and mastery over their emotional reactions in the midst of relationship turmoil you can tolerate the discomfort of emotionally intense situations.

Many psychodynamic principles in particular Bowen Theory supports the idea that learning to experience the uncomfortable feeling of emotionally intense situations is essential to one’s growth.

Dealing with these feelings when they arise can develop a more long lasting and hardcore skill to be able to self regulate oneself.

There’s some very specific questions I ask my clients in our sessions to help them begin to self soothe themselves.

I”ll end with a quote from David,

“(Self soothing ….is about our)….. ability to validate our own perceptions, feelings, and self-worth, and soothe our own heartache and anxiety when the inevitable marital disappointments, frustrations, and misunderstandings occur.

These aspects of our “relationship with ourselves” determine how we handle the good and bad times in our relationships with others how intimate or erotic we can be, how much we can afford to love someone else, and whether we feel like we’re “loosing ourselves” or “bail out” as the relationship becomes more important or more difficult.

Paradoxically, the better we are at soothing and validating ourselves, the less we need our partners to “be there” for us and the more we can “be there” for others.

Likewise, we can let ourselves be influenced by our partners taking their needs and opinions into consideration without feeling like we’re weakening our own position or interests in the process.

Our ability to self-validate and self-soothe is absolutely vital to maintaining long term passion in marriage as well as expanding our sexual relationship.