How to Listen Without Getting Defensive

 / 

How to Listen Without Getting Defensive

You should learn these ways without getting  defensive.

Understanding your partner requires the capacity to listen. Really listen.

Couples are advised to hear each other’s complaints without feeling attacked, and as great as this sounds, it’s often unrealistic.

When something you said (or didn’t say) hurts your partner’s feelings, there’s a strong impulse to interrupt with, “That wasn’t my intention. You’re misunderstanding me,” even before your partner is done talking.

Unfortunately, when the listener reacts to what the speaker is saying before the speaker gets the chance to fully explain themselves, both partners are left feeling misunderstood.

Read 12 Truths About Defensive Behavior

This is why the N in Dr. Gottman’s ATTUNE model stands for Non-defensive listening.

The Defensive Reaction

For most of us, listening without getting defensive is a hard skill to master. This is especially true when our partner is talking about a trigger of ours.

A trigger is an issue that is sensitive to our heart—typically something from our childhood or a previous relationship.

While the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may have some truth, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that trauma and regrettable incidents can leave us with scars.

This could be a result of a number of things. Maybe you’ve been repeatedly hurt or you experienced injustice in your relationships. These moments from our past can escalate interactions in the present.

Maybe you feel controlled like Braden does.

So when his wife, Suzanne, tells him, “You have to make sure the kids have dinner cooked before you go to the gym,” he responds with, “Stop acting like my mother!”

After a few more defensive statements, Braden shuts down.

Braden’s heart races at the thought of Suzanne bringing up a complaint during their State of the Union meeting.

Any complaint she expresses that includes a wish for him to change some part of his schedule around, he feels controlled.

Self-Soothe To Listen

While it’s important for the speaker to complain without blame and state a positive need to prevent the listener from flooding or responding defensively, it’s also vital for the listener to learn to self-soothe.

If you’re unable to self-soothe, your emotional brain will overpower your rational brain, the part that is designed to self-regulate and communicate, and you’ll “flip your lid” and say or do things you don’t mean.

As Dr. David Schnarch puts it,

“Emotionally committed relationships respond better when each partner controls, confronts, soothes, and mobilizes himself/herself.”

This is because the more partners can regulate their own emotions, the more stable the relationship becomes.

Self-soothing improves the stability of your relationship by allowing you to maintain yourself and your connection with your partner during a tough conversation.

Here is how Braden did it.

During their State of the Union Meeting, Suzanne started off as the speaker, protecting his triggers by stating her complaint without trying to control him.

“When I asked about making sure the kids were taken care of and you responded by telling me I was acting like your mother, I felt hurt because it felt like our kids are not a priority for you. I want to make sure our kids are loved. I need some help.”

While Suzanne is expressing her experience using I statements, Braden is having a hard time hearing her.

He wants to defend himself and tell her how she is so bossy and demanding. But he understands that he isn’t supposed to mention any of these feelings until it’s his turn to be the speaker.

And when that happens, he has to be sensitive to her triggers.

Below are some tools that helped Braden self-soothe during his State of the Union meeting.

Write down what your partner says and any defensiveness you’re feeling

Dr. Gottman suggests using a notepad to write down everything your partner says, which is especially helpful when you’re feeling defensive.

This also helps you remember what was said when you reflect back what you hear or it’s your turn to speak. Remind yourself that you’re listening to your partner because you care about their pain.

Lastly, it’s helpful to say to yourself, I’ll get my turn to talk and express my feelings about this.

1. Be mindful of love and respect

During tough conversations, it’s helpful to focus on your affection and respect for your partner. Recall fond memories and remember the ways your partner has demonstrated their love.

How they support you and make you laugh. Think about how the joy you bring each other is more important than this conflict and working through this together will lead to more of those.

I’ve found it helpful to write a quote or a happy memory in the top right corner of my notepad reminding me that I love my partner and that this conflict has the potential to bring us closer.

In What Makes Love Last?, Dr. Gottman suggests saying to yourself, In this relationship, we do not ignore one another’s pain. I have to understand this hurt.When you self-soothe, you learn to separate your relationship from the anger and hurt you’re feeling over this particular issue.

Read 43 Pieces of Best Marriage Advice by Top Relationship Experts

2. Slow down and breathe

Slowing down and taking deep breaths is a great way to self-soothe. Focus on relaxing your body. Sometimes doodling helps.

When you do this, don’t get lost in the activity or stop listening. And if your partner notices you soothing, just say, “I am trying to stay present as I listen, and stuff is coming up for me so I am trying to calm myself so I can truly hear you.”

Remember to postpone your agenda and focus on understanding your partner.

3. Hold on to yourself

In Passionate Marriage, Dr. Schnarch advises partners to create a strong relationship with themselves as individuals by learning how to self-soothe and embrace their own emotions.

Often times when you feel flooded, it is not because you are reacting to your partner’s words or behavior. It’s because you are interpreting what they are saying and assigning personal meaning to their statements.

Maybe their anger makes you feel like they’re going to leave you. Or maybe it makes you feel like you’re not being a good enough partner.

Look inward and see what you are telling yourself about what this conflict means and how it may impact you.

Holding onto yourself also means considering that your partner’s complaint may have truth to it.

Sometimes we hold onto a distorted self-portrait. I know I have.

4. Don’t take your partner’s complaint personally

I know this sounds impossible, especially if the complaint is about something you did or didn’t do. If you feel yourself getting defensive, seek to understand why.

Ask yourself, Why am I getting defensive? What am I trying to protect?

Your partner’s complaint is about their needs, not yours, so soothe your defensiveness so you can be there for them.

Read 25 Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Partner

5. Ask for a re- frame

If your partner is saying something that is triggering, ask them to say it in a different way. “I’m feeling defensive by what you’re saying.

Can you please reword your complaint so I can understand your need and explore ways we can meet it?”

6. Push the pause button

If you notice you’re having trouble focusing as the listener, ask your partner to take a break from the conversation. This is a proactive way to self-soothe and prevents your emotional brain from flipping its lid.

You can say,

“I’m trying to listen but I’m starting to take things personally. Can we take a break and restart this in 20 minutes? Your feelings are important to me and I want to make sure I understand you.”

During this time, focus on the positives of your relationship and do something that is productive. I prefer to go for a walk.

Once you’ve learned to self-soothe, it becomes a lot easier to ask your partner to help you calm down. If you find yourself struggling, tell your partner what’s on your mind.

For example, “Hun, I’m feeling flooded. Can you tell me how much you love me? I need it right now.” vs. “You’re the one with the problems. Fix yourself!”

The latter reaction comes from a place of fear and often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The former gives your relationship a fighting chance and the possibility to create a more secure bond.

Conflict is not only a catalyst for understanding, it’s also a vehicle for personal growth. I like to think of relationship conflict like an oyster.

Oysters don’t intend to make beautiful pearls. Instead, pearls are a byproduct of the oyster reducing irritation created by grains of sand. In the same way, conflict can inadvertently create connection and closeness.

After listening to Suzanne, Braden takes a deep breath. “I hear you saying that my reaction to your request for help with the kids made you feel like family doesn’t matter to me. I can see why you’d be so upset with me.”

A tear rolls down Suzanne’s cheek. This is a major breakthrough for their marriage.

Long-lasting love requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable and to listen non-defensively, even in the heat of conflict. Especially when we are hurt and angry.

Next week we will teach you the profound power of empathy and its ability to improve the way you approach conflict in your relationship.

By Kyle Benson


— Share —

— About the Author —

Response

Leave a Reply



Up Next

9 Tactics To Trigger The Hero Instinct In A Man

Hero Instinct In A Man: Ways To Trigger Their Inner Hero

Do you know there’s a hero instinct in every man? If you want to unlock that side of your man then you have come to the right place. Today, we are going to talk about how to trigger the hero instinct in a man, and do it the right way.

From understanding their innate drive to protect and provide, to unraveling the mysteries of their emotional landscape, we will explore what is the hero instinct, and what does hero instinct in relationships look like.

So, ready to know more about this side to men? Let’s go then.

Related: How To Make Your Man Happy: 25+ Last Minute Gift Ideas For Him



Up Next

This Viral ‘Bird Test’ Can Predict If Your Relationship Will Last

Unique Bird Test: Can Your Romantic Relationship Pass It?

The “bird test” is a viral TikTok trend and it is a unique way of assessing reciprocation in relationships. So, are you ready to validate (or expose) your relationship? Let’s go!

As users evaluate their significant others with the “orange peel theory” — which measures how willing they are to do small favors for you — another concept has taken hold of the platform recently: the bird test relationship.

So, What Is The Bird Test For Relationships?



Up Next

How To Know If Someone Is Thinking Of You? 10 Psychological Signs

How To Know If Someone Is Thinking Of You? Psychic Signs

Have you ever had that weird feeling that someone is thinking about you, even when they’re not with you? It feels like a whisper in the back of your mind, a subtle but undeniable connection that transcends the physical distance between you two. So then how to know if someone is thinking of you, for sure?

The interesting thing is that, in this curious world of human psychology, there can be many fascinating and psychological signs someone is thinking of you; all you have to do is know what they are.

So, are you ready to do a deep dive into the world of mind-reading (well, sort of). Let’s explore 10 psychological signs someone is thinking of you.

Related:



Up Next

6 Minutes To Improve Your Relationship: How To Have Better Communication With Your Partner

Minutes To Improve Your Relationship?

If you are thinking about how to improve your relationship, then you have come to the right place. How to better communicate with your partner? Communication is crucial to building a healthy relationship, and this article is going to talk about that. Let’s explore how to have better communication with your partner.

KEY POINTS

The three keys to communication are speaking openly, listening empathically, and reflecting back.

We usually skip reflection, so the speaker does not know if they have been heard.

A simple practice of reflection can build this skill.

Does your par



Up Next

6 Key Psychological Truths About Dating Apps

Key Psychological Truths About Dating Apps

Online dating, dating apps, dating sites – all of these things have taken the world by storm and has made dating easier than before. Or has it? This article is going to delve deep into not just the world of online dating and dating sites, but will also talk about the psychological truths about dating apps.

As recently as 15 years ago, internet dating was popularly seen as — to put it delicately — something for losers. Sites like Match, JDate, and eHarmony were in their infancy; the whole idea of finding a partner on the Internet hadn’t really transcended its origins in the personals section of the newspaper.

But with the rise of the smartphone and GPS technology, online dating has lost this stigma and ballooned into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Nowadays, you can treat your cell phone like an all-day singles bar, swiping on Tinder



Up Next

6 Unconventional Relationship Choices That May Seem Weird, But They Do Work

Unconventional Relationship Choices That Actually Work

Unconventional relationship choices, huh? They’re like the hidden gems of the dating world, the rebels of romance, the quirks that keep love alive. Even though traditional relationships have their own appeal and charm, sometimes it’s the unconventional that brings some excitement into our lives.

From open relationships to living apart together, these relationship choices may be frowned upon, but for many people, these are the relationship choices that work the best for them. To each his own, you know.

Such non traditional relationships go against what most people think is normal, however, they show us that l



Up Next

7 Research Backed Relationship Remedies

Research Backed Relationship Remedies

When it comes to dealing with relationship problems, science can prove to be really helpful and can provide you with some substantial research-backed relationship remedies. This article is going to talk about some of the most effective and useful relationship remedies that can make a huge difference to your relationship.

You may think these should go without saying, but in my personal and professional experience, they have not.

7 Research Backed Relationship Remedies

1. Be Quick to Repair Injury

One day, my wife sensed my odd vibe, I didn’t like her asking, and it gr