Couples often struggle with conflict resolution in their relationship. This comes up a lot around the holiday season due to increased family pressures, relative visits and time together. It is natural and even important to have conflict, after all, we know that intimacy is developed in conflict (which is, by the way, simply defined as, “a disagreement between two parties”). It is HOW we approach the conflict that makes conflict become either a barrier to intimacy or a conduit of intimacy.
A detrimental approach to conflict resolution is Defensiveness.
Defensiveness is defined as “a behavior intended to defend or protect; the quality of being anxious to challenge or avoid criticism.” It looks like shutting your partner down when they approach you with a hurt or a concern, by saying something invalidating like, “no I wasn’t….no I didn’t…that wasn’t a big deal…you’re too sensitive….get over it” It basically means dismissing your partners’ feelings in favor of protecting your own. It often happens without you realizing it, it is an automatic reaction rather than a thoughtful response to your partners’ needs.
Although it happens in order to protect you feelings, it rarely achieves this intent. Instead, you end up feeling more hurt and more disconnected from your partner. This is because when you approach your partner from a defensive stance, they are likely to respond with anger or defensives of their own, and then you begin the never-ending dance of who has the biggest hurt, and no one’s hurt ever gets addressed or alleviated.
So what can you do?
Instead of being defensive and putting up your shield or your sword, try doing the opposite.
- Listen – Listen to your partner’s feelings, complaints, and distress.
- Validate – Let your partner know that you understand their perspective and that their feelings matter to you.
- Take Responsibility – Issue an apology, notice where you’ve gone wrong.
- Take Action – Make a plan for not repeating the same behavior/attitude in the future.
The defensive stance: dismissing, invalidating, avoidant, prideful, rigid.
The alternative: openness, flexibility, humility, engagement, willingness to understand your partner’s viewpoint.
A huge game changer for a relationship is removing all defensiveness from conflict resolution. Putting down that sword and shield in order to engage openly and with care, allows conflict to become a route to deeper intimacy and lasting connection in your relationship.
We wish you a wonderful holiday season with your friends, your partner, and/or your children, whether that be virtual or in person, and we hope 2021 becomes the year that defensiveness is completely eliminated from your most important relationships.