John Gottman, in his study and observation of marriages, has pointed out four behaviors that he says, if left uncorrected, will destroy marriages. He calls them the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse”. They are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
(see “Other Destructive Weeds”, Nov. 6, 2009 post to this blog).
Previous posts have dealt with alternatives to criticism. There are, no doubt, many other alternatives as well and I would encourage you to come up with some of your own. However, I have decided to move on to the next “horseman” and describe an alternative to defensiveness.
When we feel threatened or attacked, our first impulse is almost always to defend ourselves. However, this usually ends up moving us further away from our loved one and ends up making both of us feel even less connected, exactly what we don’t want.
So the first alternative to defensiveness is rather than to defend yourself, to actually look for and find something you can agree with. This takes a lot of courage, humility and will power but is very effective. David Burns, in his book, Feeling Good, refers to it as “the disarming technique” because it emotionally “disarms” the other person.
If someone accuses you of being rude, for example, instead of pointing out that you were not being rude and explaining, justifying (defending) your behavior, you can simply say, “You know, I agree. That probably did sound pretty rude when I said that. Thank you for letting me know.” What can the other person say? He or she was probably all geared up for a fight but with your response, there’s nothing to fight about anymore. And you’ve opened up the dialogue so you can talk and work together as friends and allies, rather than as opponents and enemies.