Yesterday, I wrote about the way a person initiates a conversation/complaint with their partner impacts how that conversation will end. Today, I would like to talk about the role that the person receiving the message also has on the outcome of conversations. Sometimes, you might feel defensiveness when something is brought up to you. There are a variety of reasons why you might respond this way. You might feel defensive because you feel that your partner was harsh in his/her approach, or you might feel defensive because you and your partner have been fighting a lot lately, or because you are tired and worried about issues outside home, or because your temperament makes you react to situations defensively. Whatever the reason, how you deal with defensiveness and respond to your partner is within your control. Here are a few tips to help you overcome defensiveness and prevent the conversation from becoming a boxing contest:
1. Recognize that you are feeling defensive
Often times, the best way to deal with a strong feeling is to label it. Identify how your body is expressing defensiveness (tension, nervousness, short of breath, etc.). Then, notice if you are feeling eager to defend yourself or counterattack your partner. Let your partner know how are feeling (e.g., "I am feeling a bit defensiveness right now... help me understand what are you upset about").
2. Calm yourself down, if you start feeling angry/overwhelmed
If you find yourself getting defensive, even after labelling your emotion and communicating it to your partner, try to take in some deep breaths to help you calm down.
3. Validate your partner's feelings
Even if you don't agree with your partner's complaint, try to put yourself in her/his shoes to understand what is that's bothering her/him. Then, tell her/him what about what s/he is saying that makes sense to you (e.g., "I can understand why that made you feel upset/disappointed...", or "I can see how the fact that I did not do the dishes made you feel taken for granted").
3. Take responsibility for at least a piece of the situation
Taking responsibility for at least a small piece of the problem does not mean that you caused the situation or that you are guilty of something. What it means is that you understand how your behaviour (unwittingly) affected your partner and that you care enough for her/him to be able to tell them (e.g., "I did not realize you felt that way... I did plan to do the dishes, but I got so caught up with work today that I ended up forgetting").
Similar to Part 1 of this post (see post from 11 January 2017), I suggest here some stock phrases to help you have an idea of how to respond. Create stock phrases that fit your own style.