Learning to Manage Conflict in Relationships: Part III
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Last week we explored Stonewalling, the second of the four horsemen to be aware of when learning how to manage conflict in marriage. Check out Part III of what we have to say about Managing Conflict and marriage below:
The third of the four horsemen and a major offender in relationships is defensiveness. It is one of the most frequent behaviors that I observe in couples therapy when there is conflict. Defensiveness is best defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood to attempt to ward off a perceived attack. It is usually a counterattack to a complaint, which is not criticism. Defensiveness is often a reflex action to criticism or perceived criticism. Even though it can be perceived otherwise, sometimes there is no criticism but just feedback stated. However, the individual on the receiving end responds by blaming the other for doing the same thing, denies their responsibility in the matter or whines and makes an excuse for their behavior. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that its perceived effect is blame. When the original speaker experiences the defensiveness from the receiver, they often feel invalidated and alone. This often causes the couple to become more distant. Antidotes to defensiveness are the following:
(1) Remind yourself that a relationship is about being part of a team (not two individuals working against each other).
(2) Rather than seeing your partner’s words as an attack, see them as strong expressions of feelings about the topic being discussed.
(3) Acknowledge that you are not perfect.
(4) Remind yourself of the positive qualities of your partner.
(5) Most importantly, take some responsibility for the feedback your partner is expressing. Don’t apologize for something you have not done. Accepting even 10 percent of the responsibility, if it is due, will de-escalate tension, improve communication, and build trust.
Despite the fact that you may be acting in your partner’s best interests, if they misunderstand your message, you risk inviting more trouble into the dilemma. Criticism may be met with a defensive reaction and a contemptuous statement, which may result in emotional withdrawal and stonewalling.
Stay tuned to learn about the last horseman: contempt
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