How To Listen Without Getting Defensive

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.

 

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 feelings.

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.

 

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.

 

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. Oftentimes 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.

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