Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore defensiveness and its antidote.
In our post about criticism, we addressed how blaming inhibits a couple’s communication and ability to work together to create a home that supports them both. Next up was contempt, which takes criticism to the next level. Defensiveness is the third common behavior, which sabotages relationships.
When one is faced with criticism and/or contempt, defensiveness is a natural reaction but rarely works to resolve the issues being discussed. More often, defensiveness escalates the conflict because it is actually a form of blaming.
Here’s an Example:
One person likes to park their car in the garage. The other person is working on a project and because of the weather, is staging the items in the parking spot.
You left your stuff all over the garage and I can’t pull the car in! You’re such a slob.
Well if I had some space in the house to work, this wouldn’t be an issue! Can’t I do anything without you harping at me?
Note that Partner 1 is launching into the exchange with criticism and contempt, and Partner 2 immediately responds with defensiveness and adds some criticism for good measure.
I tried to park the car in the garage today and found it blocked up. I was frustrated because I had to park outside in the rain.
I’m sorry, I forgot that you would be coming home before I cleared it out. I could have let you know that I might not have been finished before you got home.
The antidote for defensiveness is taking responsibility for your own actions. Resist the urge to blame outside forces or your partner and think about what you can own yourself. What set you up for the miscommunication? What do you want to apologize for?
Here are some ways to communicate that sidestep defensiveness:
- I’ve been overwhelmed lately and I’m sorry that I was so negative
- I’ve not asked for what I needed and I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you
- I’ve been overly critical lately and I’m sorry I was really grumpy
Defensiveness, criticism and contempt rarely show up alone, often they work together as a tag team, dragging down the good intentions of having a productive conversation. Next up we explore the final culprit which interferes with creating a comfortable and organized home, stonewalling.