I frequently work with couples in my private practice. I use powerful and useful techniques to give people the opportunity to create healthier ways of relating to one another. The techniques are useless sometimes. I can have the best information but until a person stops getting defensive in their relationships nothing will change. Defensiveness is a connection destroyer.
Here’s how: You’re in an argument with your partner. She says something to you that triggers your defensiveness. Usually we respond to defensiveness by getting bigger through a louder voice, more intensity, using shaming, blaming and contemptuous words or by avoiding, shutting down, withdrawing literally or figuratively. You respond in your typical defensive way and now connection is lost. You are not talking to each other productively, you are not thinking about how you can love and honor your partner. You are likely thinking of all the parts you don’t like about this person and perhaps even reasons you shouldn’t be together. The focus is squarely on what’s wrong with her. On the flip side, some of you may even go to the place of ‘what a loser’ you are, continuing the emotional beating triggered by your partner.
The only way to create lasting change is to accept yourself as is. To accept the parts of you that you or someone else may label ‘not good enough’ in some capacity. The parts that get triggered and manifest the hurt through being defensive. In my studies of the Bible, I found an understanding of God as the deepest lover of my very being. God lets us know that He loves us unconditionally. When we accept that we are loved unconditionally, we can love others more authentically.
Our defensiveness gets in the way of extending grace to those around us. God’s answer: There’s nothing to get defensive about. If God is for us (which He is–He’s for everyone!), and we accept that He is for us (meaning we take His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness into the very depths of our being and let it soak into our tattered heart, healing all the broken bits) then we don’t need to let anyone or anything that is against us have a true effect on us.
It might look like this:
Your partner starts in on you about leaving your dirty dishes on the counter. You notice you are feeling defensive and moving toward shutting down. Perhaps retaliation or defend-and-explain words are forming in your mind. At this point say, “STOP!” to yourself. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not condemned, you are forgiven, you are loved, you are free to make mistakes and acknowledge them, rather than defend yourself against condemnation. You respond, “I was starting to feel defensive about that, and then I remembered I don’t need to defend myself. I’m sorry I left my dirty dishes on the counter. I know it’s important to clean up after myself and I forgot.” Generally when we don’t have anything to prove we are more likely to do the things that demonstrate our love for another person. In this case (which is an example I gave from my own life in Relationship Daggers ), not creating more work for her.