While it’s tempting to launch into expressing anger and to get into the attack mode when you feel hurt or frustrated, it can alienate your partner and drive a wedge between you. That said, you’ll accomplish more and improve your communication if you tell your partner what you need in a positive way.
For instance, if Joshua says to Bella “I would appreciate it if you’d tell me about your plans with your family,” this “I” statement would be more effective than saying, “You never tell me about plans.” In most cases, a “You” statement sparks defensiveness from others.
In marriage, one of the biggest hurdles couples face is how to approach difficult conversations without getting defensive. This leads to an unfortunate pattern of attack and defensiveness where both partners believe they must prove they’re right and must defend their positions.
In After the Fight, psychologist Dr. Daniel B. Wile, explains that if this defensive pattern continues over time, it can diminish love and respect between you and your partner The following are ways to stop being defensive with your partner before it becomes a bigger issue.
6 Ways to Communicate What You Need to Your Partner:
- State needs clearly and calmly: While it is natural to raise your voice and get agitated when you feel attacked, lower your voice and adopt a friendlier tone. If you feel yourself taking things personally, press the pause button and suggest a 10 to 15-minute break to your partner before continuing a difficult conversation. You might say “I’m trying to listen but I can feel myself getting defensive. Can we start this conversation again in 15 minutes?
- Listen to your partner’s side of the story and validate him or her. Instead of focusing on your own agenda and the points you want to get across, ask your partner what is bothering them and really listen before responding. When you respond, validate their perspective and use a soft start-up such as “I value your input and I’d love to hear what you think.” Be sure to use good eye contact and reassuring touch to comfort your mate such as holding their hand.
- Focus on the issues at hand. When you focus on the past, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You are no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand or in the present to meet both of your needs. Resist the urge to bring up baggage or touch on your partner’s vulnerabilities or issues you know might trigger his or her defensiveness.
- Use “I” statements to express yourself in a positive way. State what you want such as “I would like you to share more information about your spending with me. Avoid using “You” statements such as “You never talk to me about money.” Remember to focus on expressing your feelings in a way that invites your partner to communicate, rather than pushing them away.
- Take responsibility for your part in a conflict or dispute. If you focus more on your part of the problem, you will be less likely to point your finger at your partner or take things personally. Reflect on how your words and actions might make your partner feel and let him or her know that you own your part in a disagreement. Try to focus on changing your approach to communication, rather than trying to change your partner’s perspective or personality.
- Apologize if you have done something to hurt your mate – even if it was not intentional – after they’ve had a chance to describe how you hurt them. This will ensure it’s a sincere apology. Be brief and to the point without making excuses. For instance, Bella might simply say, “I am sorry for overspending on clothes last month. I won’t do it again.” By taking responsibility for her part in the dispute, even just a small piece, this will validate Joshua’s feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow them both to move on.
The next time you feel upset at your partner, examine your own thoughts and responses — before you point out his or her flaws—if you want your relationship to last. When you are having an argument with your partner, stop and remember the positive qualities that drew you to him or her in the first place. Maybe they are a hard worker or share your love of nature and camping. Whatever the positive qualities that drew you to him or her, it’s easy to forget them after living together for several years.
It’s a good idea to give your partner the benefit of the doubt rather than attacking them or getting defensive. Being defensive or negative will only push your partner away so state your needs clearly in a non-blameful way and own up to your mistakes. After all, no one is without faults!
Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry