How to Stop Defensive Behavior & Save Your Marriage
When we feel that we have been wrongly accused of something a common reaction is to put up our defenses so our partner will back down. But all this succeeds to achieve is to make our husband/wife feel that we are not taking them seriously. Where the real underlying issues in a marriage don’t ever get resolved.
Defensiveness is a way of avoiding the issues that were raised and can often lead to 2 problems rather than the one that started it.
When I discuss with couples how to save your marriage, I highlight these three common forms of defensiveness
- Victim Retaliation
- Attacking Retaliation
- Shutdown Retaliation
I don’t do this to point blame or for a couple to criticise each other, as these patterns are often learned from the past. Instead, we do individual awareness to try to avoid them in the future. We seek progress not perfection in the save my marriage program.
Victim retaliation includes saying things like:
Yes you’re always right and I’m always wrong
I can’t believe you’re bringing this up here, at this time
How dare you speak to me in that way.
Can you relate to any of these? Or do you feel that you really listen and hear your husband or wife’s complaints?
It’s very important to think about how you react, as it’s all too easy to retaliate in an attempt to make yourself the victim. It’s often unintentional to react in this way, but the ‘poor me’ stance doesn’t identify with your his or her feelings and what they want to address.
This is a way of manipulating what your partner is saying or accusing them of ulterior motives. Your sentences will begin with words such as:
Oh, so what you’re really saying is………
You’re just bringing this up because of ………
You’re just mad because……….
What this is really about is………
Shutdown is another form of defensiveness it happens when you or your partner take measures to avoid confronting problems that you have. This can be also named as the silent treatment, withdrawal or an outright refusal to discuss a certain topic. It happens when you or your partner are unable or unwilling to deal with emotional issues.
Other examples are things like, turning away, pretending to be busy on your phone or engaging in obsessive behaviours. It seems that it is a way of avoiding hurt, however in the long run it will achieve the exact opposite.
It gives the illusion of being safer than arguing or having to deal with the issue, in the long run though it can lead to the shutdown of the marriage.
Why we must stop retaliation
In order to save a marriage or even just to have a happy and hostile free relationship, we need to avoid retaliation.
All three of these responses stop a couple from dealing with the issue and prevent listening because they block engagement. Even if you do not entirely agree with what they are saying it is important that you demonstrate that you are taking them seriously.
Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of defensiveness you can destroy true intimacy in the relationship.
Revenge is not sweet! All that you will succeed to achieve through retaliation is misery and dysfunction. You will merely create further distrust in your marriage. The more that you use it the further it makes it harder to save a marriage and stop divorce. Retaliation perpetuates bitterness, anger and ultimately hate.
So how can you avoid defensiveness?
How to Avoid Defensiveness
- Fully engage and listen to what your husband/wife is saying in order to truly understand even if you think you already know.
- Don’t criticize them or be insulting. Think about your response and be fair and kind. Do not manipulate their words.
- Take time to consider what they have said without responding immediately.
- Go back your partner and use words that will let them know you have considered and taken on board what they have said to you.
- Let them know that perhaps you had acted unfairly or that you can understand why they may have been upset at some of your actions.
- Avoid bringing up your own complaints and issues by concentrating on what your partner is telling you. If you have your own grievances wait till another time to air them. Don’t detract from their moment and what they are trying to tell you.
- Allow each other to make mistakes in how grievances are bought up. Things can often come out wrong at the best of times, when we add emotion to it, it becomes even more likely.
I often get asked in relation to defensiveness “Nicola, but what if they are wrong, do you mean I am meant to just take everything they say.” No, there is a difference between standing up for yourself and retaliation.
Standing up for Yourself vs. Retaliation
Standing up for yourself is a way of letting people know exactly what it is that you desire. It’s a way of being clear about asking for what you want in a calm and clear manner. This is done in a respectful and measured way and shouldn’t cause offense, attack or harm to anyone.
Retaliation on the other hand is used knowing that it will cause hurt, or shift the blame onto the other person. Using this behavior or silent treatment is a deliberate method of trying to make yourself the victim in a situation. It is not self-defense.
I use to always get told growing up when I fought with my brother or sisters “two wrongs don’t make a right!” This applies to adults too!
If you consciously want to make your partner feel bad as a way of teaching them a lesson purely because you feel bad you will achieve very little. Firstly, they will feel that they have to do as you say in order to keep you happy, otherwise they know that the only alternative is that you will hurt them. This is not the way to have a loving happy and equal partnership. As clearly in this scenario one person is in control and the other is merely subservient to their partners demands. When this happens in a marriage closeness is lost.
Couples that respond to complaints thoughtfully and fairly find they can move on from differences far easier. To have harmony you need to be able to listen and share on the topic that has been raised, some couples come to me to practice this in a safe setting first online, so they get into the habit of discussing heated issues calmly after only a few sessions, they find they are able then to do this alone together. As mentioned the save my marriage program and marriage advice I offer is about progress not perfection, so if you only slightly start to adjust your responses that is a great start. .
Hope there is something useful in this, from my heart to yours, Nicola
Nicola Beer – Founder of the Save My Marriage Program – An Alternative to Marriage Counseling – That Works!
Contact or find out more about me at www.nicolabeer.com
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