It usually starts with domestic duties.

“When you hang that cloth up, could you please do it like this?” My wife says.

“I do do it like that!” I retort, annoyed.

“I wasn’t criticising! I was just asking you to do it.”

“I did do it like that!” – me, indignantly.

I tend to take things personally. I am, by nature (or early training) a very defensive person. I’ve improved (a bit) over the years but I used to go into “defence mode” at the slightest thing. My wife was always walking on egg shells.

The psychologist John Gossman defines defensiveness as “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack”.

I become defensive when I perceive an attack of some kind.

Notice we use the word “perceive” here. It’s rarely a real attack. It’s usually a complaint. The problem is that us defensive types take the complaint as criticism or blame. It’s usually not. 

In my experience, the trick is to first…

  1. recognise that you’re in defensive mode.
  2.  Then, stop the conversation by taking a breath or asking your partner to hold on for a minute while you calm yourself. You might even want to leave the room for a minute or two. 
  3. Then you can try and truly listen and even more importantly, truly understand what your partner’s saying. 
  4. Then see if you can relay this understanding back to your partner to see if you’ve got it right.
  5. As soon as those feelings of “righteous indignation” come up again, repeat the process.
  6. The next step is to really take responsibility for at least a part of what the complaint is … even if you think there’s nothing to it … there obviously is to your partner!

And then … practise this over and over until it becomes a habit.

I know this isn’t easy (I’ve tried it!). 

Watch the video below to hear more about it …

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