This blog post is part of a series about the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse from Dr Gottman. The first post was about Criticism; the second post was about Contempt and this one, the third is about Defensiveness.
Defensiveness is triggered when we feel attacked, no matter if our partner meant it. We play the victim, and we hide behind excuses. More than that, it is about being right and making our partner wrong. It is a win/lose scenario, so in reality, it is a lose/lose for our relationship. We create a loop of being critics then defences, and we get stuck in that loop. In that loop, we do not resolve the problem at hand, and it might just get worse from here.
This is how defensiveness can look like:
“It is not my fault if we are late, I was the one waiting”
“I’ve never said that!”
“I’m not being stupid! Just stop nagging in my ears!”
Let’s see together what is the antidote for defensiveness, and how to use it. The antidote has two ingredients: the first one is acceptance. The second one is apologising.
Acceptance of our partner’s viewpoint. Whether we agree or not, it is still what our partner is thinking, or feeling, and we cannot suppress it. Accepting is then the starting point for resolving the situation. Accepting their viewpoint will also and hopefully create understanding, and allow us to build trust.
“I feel that you are upset right now, I understand as we did not communicated well”
“Can I make an assumption? … It feels to me that we are stuck, and that you are frustrated when I am stuborn.”
“Is that okay if I reformulate what you’ve just said? … Okay, then I understand you meant … Do I got it right? “
When we have validated our partner’s viewpoint, it is then important to apologise for our part of the conflict, no matter how small it is. To move towards a win/win outcome, we need to step out of the blaming game of responsibility. It is both our fault (the partner and us) when we fight with our partner. Let’s be honest, find our part of the responsibility and apologise for it.
Apologising is NOT being weak. It is a sign of strength. It is being capable of being vulnerable, and take ownership in a challenging situation. It takes character and confidence. It is a trait to respect. Let’s look at how apologising looks like:
“I can see that it wasn’t a good moment to share that. I want to say that I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll do my best to ask if it is a good time to share”
“I’m sorry Sweetheart, my tone was out of line. I shouldn’t have said it this way”
“I just realised that I have been accusing you. I’m sorry for that. This makes me insecure, and I’m attacking you when you bring the subject. Can we try again now?”
If both partners are aware of how to handle defensiveness, it is usually easy to both acknowledge each other viewpoint then apologise and move on to a productive discussion or resolution of the problem.
If only one partner is, it already has a great chance of calming down the other one. Creating that space will help in many cases to move towards a more peaceful, and open resolution. It goes a long way!
Thank you for your time and reading my post.
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