Strengthen emotional closeness, reduce defensive behaviours

Want to feel more emotional closeness and less defensive with your partner?

How partners dismiss each other through defensive behaviour can have a long lasting impact on their relationship and their self-confidence. 

Defensive behaviour is a common coping strategy partners use to defend themselves from either feeling judged, criticized, ignored, not feeling good enough or reminded of that hopelessness in ‘why bother trying’.

The ways partners defend and protect themselves can show up in different ways.  Partners are quite clever, they can chameleon themselves to distinguish their underlying hurt through ‘acting out’ in projecting their defensive behaviour.  Maybe there is history of hurt in the relationship, possibly expressing their truth has come across as attacking, criticized or belittling.  This tends to create a sense of withdrawing because neither partner feels emotionally safe anymore to share their thoughts or feelings in a way that will be received well.  Yet underneath their defensive mask, they are defending themselves from feeling angry, hurt, ashamed or feeling like a failure.  

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Some ways partners can display their defensive ways:

  • Projection. When thoughts, feelings, frustrations, stress, self-doubts (to name a few) are projected onto their partner.
  • Blaming. When responsibility is deflected onto their partner.
  •           Minimising.  When when a partner downplays something of importance to their partner.

  • Denial. When a partner refuses to acknowledge their own part.
  • Justifying.  When a partner backs up their defensive behaviours as warranted and expected. 
  • Passive-Aggressive.  When a partner expresses themselves indirectly (with hostile mannerisms, body language or words with a negative undertone) rather than directly.  

The good news is…
partners can learn new ways of talking.

By partners learning to communicate using proactive and compassionate vocabulary, helps them to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that allows them to feel safe to have a conversation, without becoming over-reactive in defensiveness.  Underneath, each partner is yearning to be heard, understood and valued.

Some ways towards emotional closeness and reduced defensiveness between partners:

  • Call it out with kindness. 

    Make the focus on calling out the defensive behaviour ‘we’re doing this again’, ‘this only hurts us’, ‘can we slow it down and just talk about it?’  Set the intention to talk without the reactive defensive responses.

  • Keep it emotionally safe.

    Focus on acknowledging each other’s thoughts and feelings rather than defending yourself or over-talking.  Allow each other equal time to talk.  Listen out for keywords your partner is using and repeat them back eg ‘so what you’re saying is…’   This gives you both a sense of being heard and understood.

  • Remain curious.
    By remaining curious about what your partner is saying and asking questions invites more of a conversation rather than defensive behaviour eg ‘help me to understand, can you explain that again?’ When partners understand each other’s perspective it allows them to talk rather than react.
  • Explore the truth.

    Take time to understand your own reactive defensive behaviour and words and the causes are.  Ask yourself these questions:

    Why am I reacting defensively?

    How does my defensive behaviour impact talking with my partner?

    How am I feeling right now?

    How can I express myself in a non-threatening way?

  • Practice self-compassion and self-care.

    By taking care of yourself emotionally and physically, you are being kind to your yourself.  When you’re able to do this, you approach your partner with the same compassion and understanding.

Need help to get your relationship back on track?

If you are seeking to improve your communication and emotional closeness through learning strategies to express yourself without being defensive, reach out to work with Linda Kelly, Relationship Coach. 

About Linda …

Linda is a Relationship Coach and Counsellor. Having worked with hundreds of couples and individuals over the years, Linda understands the complexities and challenges that couples experience today. 

Linda’s blend of coaching and counselling approach allows her to be more hands-on, supportive and directive, helping people to achieve results within themselves and in their relationship.

Linda Kelly Relationship Coach Couples Counsellor Brisbane Australia America Europe

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