The #1 Thing You Can Do to Start Improving Your Relationship Today

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Why do we struggle to be wrong or to admit fault? I have my own theory, but I will save that for another article. Regardless to why we have difficulty taking responsibility or being seen as fallible, I can tell you as a couples counselor that that behavior is one of the most destructive things that couples do.

So how do you start improving your relationship today? Drop the defensiveness and use openness instead! Defensiveness is a conversation killer. It turns an expression of ideas and thoughts into debate club. Did you get into this relationship to be in a debate club? No? Then why are you fighting to be right all the time?

Here’s what happens when you use defensiveness during a conversation. Your partner expresses something that they are thinking or feeling “I feel like we don’t spend enough time together.” If you respond with defensiveness it would sound something like this “Yes we do, we are together all the time.” What your partner hears when you say that is, “You are wrong”. Where does your partner go from there? They definitely don’t feel listened to or that their feelings matter.

What usually happens then is that your partner feels the need to build their case. They will do this by speaking louder or engaging in defensiveness in an attempt to get you to listen. Can you see where this discussion went off the rails? Very easily the two of you can end up in a full blow fight.

Before I tell you how to stop being defensive, let me first explain what happened. You didn’t listen! Your partner told you something very important about how they are feeling. Do you want to be in a happy relationship? Does your partner’s happiness factor into the overall health of your relationship? You bet it does! This person that you love just told you that they don’t feel close to you (that is the underlying message of their statement). Don’t you want them to feel close to you and loved by you? Then why are you telling them that they are wrong? Okay, now that you see what is happening behind the scenes, let’s talk about what you can do.

First, you need to listen. Don’t be thinking about what you are going to say next. You may not like what your partner says or they may say it in a way that is cruel (we will talk about how to manage that in another post). That is okay! You can still change the conversation by not being defensive. Once your partner is done speaking, acknowledge what they said. “You don’t feel like we spend enough time together?”. Next show empathy. “Well that’s no good! I don’t want you to feel that way.” Then take responsibility. “How can we change that? Is there something I can do?”

Here’s what both ways look like:

Defensiveness

Your Partner “I feel like we don’t spend enough time together.”

You “Yes we do, we are together all the time!”

Fight ensues…

Openness

Your Partner “I feel like we don’t spend enough time together.”

You “You don’t feel like we spend enough time together? Well that’s no good! I don’t want you to feel that way. How can we change that? Is there something I can do?”

Good luck fighting after that response!

So, here’s my challenge to you: Try using openness instead of defensiveness for 1 week and see what happens to your relationship. Don’t worry about what your partner does! Just focus on your own behavior. You will soon see how much you can affect the relationship by opening up to what your partner is thinking and feeling rather than being defensive. And that is how you can start improving your relationship today!

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