NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Improving Communication in Your Relationship: How to Change a Pattern of Defensive Behavior

My recent articles have focused on improving communication in relationships.

See my articles:

In the current article, I'm focusing on defensive behavior.

Why is a Pattern of Defensive Behavior Destructive to a Relationship?
Everyone responds defensively at some point, but that's different from an ongoing pattern of defensive behavior.

A pattern of defensive behavior is a serious issue in relationships, and it has been known to lead to the demise of many relationships.

A Pattern of Defensive Behavior Can Ruin Your Relationship

Defensive behavior can occur automatically for some people because it's a behavior that often develops early in life as a response to a perceived threat.

See my articles: 

When Arguments With Your Spouse Trigger Old Emotional Wounds From Childhood

When you're defensive, instead of listening to what your partner has to say, you deflect their comments by pointing the finger at your partner.

As an example, if your significant other tells you that you're not doing your share of the household chores, instead of listening and considering his or her point, you immediately lash out by saying, "I'm not dodging the household chores.  You're the one dodging the household chores."

In this example, we can see that there's no self reflection on what your partner told you. There's only a knee jerk reaction (see my article: Responding Instead of Reacting to Stress).

It's not a matter of whether you're right or wrong, it's a matter of reflecting on what your partner said and considering his or her feelings about the matter.

In addition, nothing gets resolved if you have a tendency to react defensively and, over time,  you can have a pile up of unresolved problems.

How to Change Defensive Behavior Before It Ruins Your Relationship
  • Become Aware of Your Defensive Behavior:  In order to change defensive behavior, you need to become aware of when you're doing it.  In the heat of the moment, you might not realize that you're reacting defensively.  But if you take time to think about it the next time that it's pointed out to you, you could develop increased awareness of your defensiveness.  By become more aware of your reactive patterns of defensiveness, you can discover whether you're reacting this way every time your significant other asks you for something or if there are certain issues that trigger your defensiveness.  Are old memories getting triggered, which are unrelated to the here-and-now situation?
  • Write Down Each Time You're Defensive:  Once you start becoming aware of your defensive behavior, write down each instance after it occurs.  Keep a log of these incidents, and you will begin to see patterns.  Along with writing down each incident, write about what was going on for you emotionally at the time.  Were you fearful? Angry? Resentful?  Did the incident take you back to an old memory so that you reacted in a childlike manner?
  • Think Before You React:  There's a difference between responding and reacting.  When you respond, you take the time to reflect on what's going on.  What is your significant other really saying to you?  If you're so upset that you're not sure, ask for clarification.  If you're still upset after you get clarification, tell your significant other that you need a little time (let him or her know how much time, so you don't leave your significant other hanging, and then get back to him or her within that time frame).  Once you're calm, you can think more clearly.  If you don't agree with your significant other, rather than saying, "You're wrong," look beyond your significant other's words and find out what's going on.  Does s/he feel overwhelmed?  Is there some misunderstanding?  
  • Work as a Team to Resolve the Problem: Rather than working against your significant other by being defensive as if s/he is the enemy, work as a team to resolve the underlying issues.  What do you each need to resolve the problem?  Are there common areas where you agree?  Can you each come up with compromises?

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner are unable to work out this issue, you could benefit from couples therapy where you can both learn how to improve your communication skills.

A skilled psychotherapist can also help you to work through unresolved issues from the past that might be getting triggered in your current relationship so that you're no longer triggered now (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise in helping couples to improve communication.

About Me
I am a licensed New York psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome communication problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.