It’s perfectly natural to want to defend yourself when you perceive you are being are attacked. After all, this is how humans were designed, and this “fight or flight” response has historically served us well. If the only options are to flee, fight back, or get mauled to death by a wild animal, fighting back doesn’t seem like such a bad option.
But what about when attack isn’t actually an attack at all? And what if the so-called attacker is your partner or spouse? How well does the defensiveness serve you when you’re trying to solve problems in the relationship?
The answer is not all. Defensiveness is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in couple’s counseling and in preparing relationships. More often than not, couples show up blaming one another, pointing out the flaws that need fixing in their partners, all the while defending how right they are about everything.
When the finger is pointed at them, they deny, minimize and defend their position or their actions to a fault, often blaming their partner for their own behaviors, or deflecting the conversation back to their partner’s flaws. This pattern of minimizing, denying, and blaming is extremely unhealthy, and truly prevents couples from healing and moving forward with improvements to their relationships.
Counseling or therapy is only useful is one is willing to change. It is not just a place to come and vent and voice your list of problems with another person and ask them to change. How on earth could that be useful? Sure, getting insight is often part of understanding a problem, but only if it is used to affect positive and corrective change. One could gain all the insight in the world, week after week, but without a willingness and commitment to change, nothing will ever get better.
It’s also important to realize that as you begin to change your behavior, and stop blaming your partner for every problem, your partner actually starts to make more positive changes as well. When the tone of the conversation becomes one of partners on the same team trying to work together to solve a problem, the environment allows for change. If you stay stuck pointing fingers at one another and refusing to change yourself, no problems will ever get resolved.
It is incredibly difficult to stop blaming and defending, especially if you have been interacting this way for a really long time, as is often the case. Here are steps you can take to start changing this pattern and allowing for growth within yourself and your relationships.
- Begin paying attention to when you are blaming your partner or becoming defensive. Notice how often it is really happening, what types of situations are triggering it, and how you feel before, during and after. Often, awareness is truly the first step towards change. So many things we do, including the ways we interact with others, have become habits rather than something we do mindfully. We often don’t even notice what we are doing and how it keeping us stuck. Eventually, you will be able to catch yourself before you do it, and you will be able to utilize more effective ways of communicating and solving problems.
- Take a deeper look at what is really happening. How are these interactions going? Ask yourself what purpose continually blaming your partner is serving. Is it working? Is it making things any better or any worse? I can practically guarantee that it is not working, and it is making things worse rather than better. Often, we blame others to protect our own self-esteem and sense that we are better than the other person. Accepting anything else would mean that we are flawed, and that is sometimes simply too hard or too painful to accept.
- Identify your own pain and struggles. What hurtful things are you carrying with you from earlier in your life? Think about how these issues might be making you particularly sensitive or defensive about certain problems in your life currently. Then, take a look at the problems in your relationship, rather than the problems in your partner. There are two of you in the relationship, and most certainly there are two of you contributing to the problems in it. It will take two of you to work through these problems.
- Turn the focus inward and take some personal responsibility for your own happiness and your own life. Your partner does not have the power or the obligation to make you feel happy. That must come from within. He or she does not make decisions regarding how you should think, feel or behave. That is all on you.
- Find a new and improved way of expressing your needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings to your partner. Rather than using accusatory, derogatory and hurtful language, try to find kinder, more loving and gentler ways. Let your partner know how much you love and appreciate them, and that you can solve problems together as a team.
Relationships are certainly not always easy, but most agree that they are worth the effort. When you decide that being right is far less important than being happy, then and only then can you unite to strengthen your relationship. It is easy to blame others for all of the problems and unhappiness in our lives and our relationships. But nobody ever said this would be easy. You and your relationship are worth the hard work.