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…
- recognise that you’re in defensive mode.
- 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.
- Then you can try and truly listen and even more importantly, truly understand what your partner’s saying.
- Then see if you can relay this understanding back to your partner to see if you’ve got it right.
- As soon as those feelings of “righteous indignation” come up again, repeat the process.
- 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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