Updated: Mar 15
Many times, couples engage in a dance of criticizing and defending. If you find yourself using statements, “you always…” or “you never…” you’re more than likely criticizing your partner. On the other end of the dance, your partner will most likely respond with “but I…” in which begins their defense. Have you noticed these interactions in your relationship? Take the time to notice and understand the cycles of interaction that occur between you and your partner, especially during conflict. When considering the criticism/defensive dance, ask yourself are you criticizing or complaining? The difference between the two can make a world of a difference in your relationship. Are you finding a need to defend yourself in your interactions?
When we criticize our partners, we are attacking their character, their person. A criticism can looking something like, “you always leave a mess around the house. You’re like one of the children!” or “you didn’t call me when you landed. Why would you do this to me?” Rather harsh don’t you think? No wonder our partners are having the instinctual and gut reaction to defend themselves. There’s nothing troubling about making a complaint to your partner. Just watch the wording. For the above examples let’s reword from criticism to complaint: “I’ve been feeling really tired and overwhelmed lately and now I see that you let your clothes in the bathroom, so I’m frustrated” and “I was really hurt that I didn’t get a call from you when you landed.” Instead of blaming and criticizing your partner and making a personal attack it’s important to own your role and your feelings in the situation and openly communicate those to your partner.
When you feel criticized it’s an instinctual gut reaction to defend yourself. You’re warding off an attack– keeping yourself safe. However, like criticism, defensiveness is also an enemy in relationships. It’s not allowing for a close and connecting relationship. Unfortunately, when you behave defensively its perceived as not taking any responsibility for your mistake or actions. You’re taking the victim stance. In the previously mentioned example of, “you always leave a mess around the house. You’re like one of the children!” When feeling defensive, a response would look something like “Why are you attacking me? I never get any credit for the things I do around here.” Even though it may feel like you’re right in not owning up to these errs– they’re still creating a negative impact on your relationship. Notice in your conversations with your partner, are you using phrases like, “it’s really not my fault,” “I did not do anything wrong,” and “no, I really didn’t.” Any of these feel familiar? You may have adopted defensiveness into your interactions.
If any of these interactions feel or sound familiar you may be wondering, okay what can I do about them? Well, luckily there’s adjustments and changes that both you and your partner can make. As I mentioned before, for both partners remembering to take responsibility for your actions, feelings and thoughts is key. If you find yourself in this negative interaction cycle, take a moment, pause and breathe. It’s really upsetting when your partner forgets to call you, but what are you feeling?
Rather than blaming and attacking your partner, open up the lines of communication about what’s going on for you internally. This takes time and practice. Be patient and graceful with yourself. Same goes if you’re feeling attacked, take a moment, pause and breathe. Try and be empathetic to your partners experience. You don’t want to deny that the problem exists nor any responsibility– this will only upset your partner even more. Try and take responsibility for even the smallest portion of the complaint and similarly, attempt to share what’s happening for you internally. In the example that the partner forgot to call once they landed try saying something like, “Yeah, I did forget to call. I was in a bit of a rush, but I’ll try and send a text next time if I’m unable to get on a call.” Have an open conversation with your partner. Explore with one another your needs and wants during these situations. Ask your partner what they felt when you didn’t call and share what you were feeling in the moment. It’s difficult to open these lines but it’s essential in creating a meaningful, connecting relationship. If unable to have these conversations together, contact one our experts to help you navigate and build the life and love that you want.
Co-founder of the Love Discovery Institute, Dr. Carolina Pataky is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Sexologist and Certified Sex Therapist. Recognized as one of South Florida’s leading authorities on intimacy, relationships and self-discovery. Her focus is to give individuals and couples of any sexual preference the tools to learn how to love themselves unconditionally, receive love, and create fulfilling and joyful relationships that will last a lifetime. Through private sessions, couples’ intensives and luxury retreats, she provides individual and couples coaching sessions, sex therapy, and psychotherapy practices that support clients through the journey of finding the right path to healthy love. Visit her website www.lovediscovery.org