While it is natural to feel hurt when a loved one has done something wrong or said something offensive, taking their actions personally can prolong the process of healing and cause people undue misery.
My first experience with taking things too personally in my second marriage was when my husband Craig gave me feedback about my parenting skills. For a few years, I took his comments personally and reacted defensively to his comments.
That said, Craig felt I was too permissive with my three children and needed to set more loving limits with them. For instance, I took on too much responsibility for household chores and didn’t ask them to take more charge of their rooms and help out more. And I gave in too easily when one of them tried to convince me to purchase something they desired (such as football cards or concert tickets).
What I realized eventually was that by taking Craig’s comments personally, I reacted defensively rather than listening and evaluating any truth in them. I was giving up my personal power and allowing myself to be feel resentful. After this realization came to me, our relationship improved and I let Craig influence my parenting. As a result, I can see how by moving out of the victim role, I was able to enjoy more harmonious relationships and my children became more responsible.
In relationships, one of the biggest hurdles couples face is how to approach difficult conversations without getting defensive or trying to prove a point. 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. Afterall, it takes two people to contribute to a miscommunication or dispute.
According to Daniel B. Wile, author of After the Fight, if a pattern of attack and defensiveness continues over time, it can dimmish love and respect between partners. Instead, couples can benefit from being influenced by each other and avoiding defensiveness.
For instance, after accepting feedback from Craig about being too permissive with my children, we had fewer disagreements and my kids benefitted from our cooperative approach. Likewise, he became more receptive to my feedback when I expressed frustration about his arriving late from work. He began checking in with me by phone or text, and this lessened my unnecessary worry about his safety on his long commute home.
5 Steps to Not Taking Things Too Personally in Marriage:
- Accept that you and your partner will make mistakes and it is a given that you will need to recover from them by accepting each other’s influence, and apologizing and granting forgiveness.
- Let go of any preconceived notions that someone has to be to blame for a miscommunication, argument, or a setback in your family or marriage.
- Show your partner by word and deed that you are willing to learn by your mistakes and that you are interested in being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts, feelings, and desires without judgment, disrespect, or malice.
- Practice both offering an apology and accepting one from your partner. It may feel unnatural if you are not accustomed to it, but you will feel more comfortable over time.
- Rather than getting defensive and trying to prove you’re right, be open to feedback from your partner and seek to listen more carefully to their comments rather than focusing on proving a point.
In the end, as with so many of the negative patterns that grow out of a couples’ ineffective communication styles, overcoming defensiveness is possible by bringing a sense of awareness and learning simple tools to relationship success.
Remember: we’re human, we all make mistakes, and intention is important. Commitment to changing the destructive dynamics of defensiveness and not taking things personally can help your love grow and will serve to strengthen the bonds that bring you closer.
By adopting a mindset of not taking things personally when your partner gives you feedback, the quality of your interactions will improve over time. You will be choosing to live a life based on trust and you won’t be dominated by anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.