The antidote to defensiveness is taking responsibility, which may be one of the most challenging antidotes to adopt.
In fact, John Gottman says this:
“Down-regulating one’s own defensiveness is the ‘work’ in Making Relationships Work. It is always the challenge. It is important to note that [people in] all unhappy relationships have left a partner in pain and just gone on with life.
Instead, couples who make relationships work well adopt the motto that, ‘If you’re hurting baby, the world stops, and I listen. I’m with you.’ To summarize: Seeing our partner’s pain and getting in touch with our love is the way to down-regulate defensiveness and think that we might have some (even a smidgen) of responsibility!”
Julie Gottman adds:
“When we take responsibility for words or actions that have caused distress, we are opening the door to changes we need to make in order to be our best selves. Defensiveness keeps the door slammed shut.”
So how can we take responsibility? Remember that you love your partner and use that to inform how you respond. Choose to try to see things from your partner’s perspective.
It’s a difficult skill to master but the conversation that follows will be your reward. You can even start by noticing when you’re feeling defensive and call it out: “I’m feeling defensive.”
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The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 23 April 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.