Learning to Manage Dispute in Relationships: Part III

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Last week we explored Stonewalling, the second of the four horsemen to be aware of when learning how to manage dispute in marriage. Check out Part III of what we have to say about Managing Dispute and marriage below:  


Defensiveness, the third of the four horsemen, is a serious relationship offender. When there is disagreement, it is one of the behaviors I notice most frequently in couples therapy. The best way to describe defensiveness is as self-protection through righteous anger or acting like an innocent victim in an effort to fend off a perceived attack. Typically, it is a response to a complaint that is not a critique. A common reflex to criticism or perceived criticism is defensiveness. Even though it could appear differently, there are situations when only feedback is offered. However, the individual on the receiving end responds by blaming the other for doing the same thing, denies their responsibility in the matter or whines and makes an excuse for their behavior. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that its perceived effect is blame. When the original speaker experiences the defensiveness from the receiver, they often feel invalidated and alone. This often causes the couple to become more distant. Antidotes to defensiveness are the following:

(1) Remind yourself that relationships are about being a part of a team, not about two people competing with one another.

(2) Consider your partner’s comments as passionate statements of feelings regarding the subject being addressed rather than as an assault.

(3) Acknowledge that you are not perfect.

(4) Remind yourself of your partner’s excellent traits.

(5) Most crucial, assume some accountability for the criticism that your partner is voicing. Avoid making excuses for things you haven’t done. If any responsibility is owed, even just 10% of it being accepted will help to reduce conflict, enhance communication, and foster trust.

Stay tuned to learn about the last horseman: contempt

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