Are you Protecting yourself or the Relationship?


When you feel attacked, it is natural to assume a defensive stance. You want to say, "Hey wait a minute, I'm a good person and you are making me feel as though I have done something really awful." A typical defensive stance is to try to explain your motivation ("I was just trying to ...") or to minimize the impact your behavior should have had ("You are looking at this all wrong").
Take Responsibility When you feel attacked you may justify your response based on this as a trigger ("She made me do it"). Yet, when you send your children to school, you expect them to take responsibility for their behavior and not blame other children for getting them into trouble. Take responsibility for your reaction regardless of how aggressive your partner has become in trying to get your attention.
It's Not All About YouWhen your partner triggers you to be defensive, an effective way to react is by asking the question, "What is he or she saying about him or herself?" Remember, when you feel attacked the message is all about you. Well the message isn't all about you. Your partner is trying to let you know what impact your behavior is having on him or her.
By responding to your partner's views and feelings, you will effectively take the wind out of your partner's sails. His or her emotions will settle down and the possibility of an exchange will be restored. Too often counselors will train couples to use listening without clarifying why listening is so important. Listening gets you out of your own protective barrier and lets you hear your partner's views and feelings...even if you disagree with the portrayal of you.
ListeningYour partner will make mistakes as he or she tries to address issues. One mistake is to criticize or attack you. This is a mistake because it does not ask you to care and instead makes you want to defend yourself. Don't take the bait! Instead of defending yourself, take the higher ground and reflect on your partner's message about him or herself.
Jenna is upset because Gene has procrastinated in taking out the garbage and she feels nauseated by the smell. She sees this as a pattern of procrastination and now is the time to let her feelings she has been holding in out. "Can't you take some responsibility around here? You just sit there oblivious to that stinking garbage. Maybe you think if you wait long enough, I'll do it. You can be so lazy and it really pisses me off."
Gene has been sitting enjoying the movie and this message really catches him off guard. Jenna is rarely so mad and certainly not typically aggressive over such small issues. He could simply ignore her message and say, "I'll get it." and finish watching the show. Or he could strike back, "Why do you have to be such a nag? I'll take care of it, just quit nagging me." Both of these responses are likely to create distance and more anger for each.
Instead, Gene can acknowledge her feelings and say, "I'm sorry, nobody likes the smell of garbage. I'll take it out now so you won't have to smell it." He may feel she has disregarded his feelings but he elects to address her feelings, then separately he can address her tone. Later he says, "I want you to be able to let me know when something is bothering you, but I want you to say it in a way that I can hear you. It is difficult to hear you when it feels like an attack." He is more likely to be heard because he showed Jenna that he cared about her message.
Couples that show they care for each other by listening for their partner's message become more satisfied with their relationship. Couples that fail to listen find that their relationships become more shallow and distant. Start today to build a connection based on a willingness to listen for your partner's message.

For further inquiries:

Check out Lee Horton, Ph.D., Psychologist, at

Phone: (901) 818- 5450