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Defensiveness In Your Relationships…

As human beings, we all tend to find ourselves being defensive from time to time. Many of my clients mention to me that they often find themselves saying things that they wouldn’t normally “put out there” when they feel triggered by their partners.

Often a part of our mind (called the subconscious) sends an automatic red flag (or trigger signal) reaction in direct response to something that is perceived as a threat. This can be as simple as a threatening remark made by another individual during a conversation. From there, once one partner is defensive, things can start to spiral in a negative direction.

When this “defensive” mode kicks in, your thinking capacity is automatically reduced. Your options are more limited. When this “triggering” occurs, both partners might sense that their ability to think clearly has been compromised, as the mind/body is manning itself for a response to a perceived attack.

These types of defensive situations can harm the couple connection, placing each of you on “opposite teams” preparing to do battle. At times like this, it is extremely difficult for each partner (being triggered and defensive) to back down…the conversation (or argument) which ultimately follows rarely is productive, since neither individual has the listening capacity to really hear and learn from the words exchanged. As you might guess, your chances of getting stuck in a painful argument at this point are high.

Reacting in a defensive manner during an exchange is not empowering for anyone involved, and we typically don’t feel positive or secure about ourselves (or our marriage/relationship) after becoming defensive.

As you might imagine, chronic defensiveness communication can be an issue for your marriage or relationship, it’s a recipe for an ongoing  deterioration in communication and connection, complete with repeated frustrations and cycles of negativity.

A first step and an important way to begin to reduce defensiveness is to take time to actually identify the negative impact(s) it is having on your marriage or relationship:

1. Defensiveness does not allow you to truly listen to your spouse or partner’s point of view. Remember the importance of being an active listener and using empathy in your relationship? Defensiveness does not allow this to happen.

2. Defensiveness breeds more defensiveness (it’s a nasty cycle!) Usually after an interaction of this sort, both individuals walk away feeling disconnected, unappreciated and misunderstood.

3. As time progresses, defensiveness can serve as a breeding ground for hostility, anger and resentment. It helps to create a toxic environment, instead of one characterized by safety and security.This lack of safety and security can lead to increased frustration and can continue to erode the positive components of the relationship.

4. Defensiveness can also take a physical toll on everyone involved (think of the mind/body connection here)…being defensive triggers our reactivity and thereby places our bodies in an elevated stress-response that can inhibit rational-clear thinking, and tax us emotionally and physically.

Taking the time to understand and overcome defensiveness should be a key priority for couples looking to foster effective communication.

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