What we say and how we say it can make or break a relationship. Often we withhold expressing our truth in the moment because we don’t want to hurt someone or we are afraid of getting a negative reaction. Ironically, when we are not truthful, we are actually contributing to creating a dysfunctional interaction. When this becomes the pattern in a relationship, we lose contact with our partner which may actually lead to the end of the relationship.
I once had an employee who was so sensitive that she heard everything as criticism. If I tried to correct something she had done so she would learn for the next time, she immediately became defensive and argumentative, making all kinds of excuses for her actions. No matter how delicately I tried to express myself to her, she became defensive. Needless to say, this relationship was short lived! That was a working relationship, so the answer was to find another employee. When this occurs in a close intimate relationship, the stakes are higher and the tendency to not be completely honest is greater. After all, there’s so much more to lose!
What do I mean by defensive communication? Any time we hear something we don’t like or feel hurt or feel criticized and we respond with a reason or excuse for our behavior, we are “defending” our position. When our only response is to say something about ourselves, we are no longer listening to the other person. Our buttons get pushed, and we are on the road to trying to get the other person to see things our way, which is to change their mistaken belief about us. We are no longer open to finding a solution to whatever the issue is. We are only interested in getting rid of the yucky feeling that comes when we feel criticized. Communication then becomes like a ping pong game, with each person hitting the ball to the other in rapid succession without ever really hearing what is being said.
This pattern of interaction is exhausting to say the least! if I am not being listened to and don’t feel I can express myself without being interrupted with defensiveness, I feel frustrated. I may then hold back and not be honest about the little things that bother me, until resentment builds and then I notice everything that bothers me!
While it may be easier to keep your dukes up while defending your position and blaming the other person, this will never lead to harmonious relationships. If someone pushes your buttons and you react, it’s your responsibility to look at yourself and see what is being triggered in you and needs to be healed. If it’s a button connected to the child in you that had a critical parent and you feel as though nothing you do is ever good enough, then it’s your job to heal that part of you so you are not triggered by someone else.
We all have the right to express ourselves. Healthy relationships are based on openness and emotional honesty. We must be able to not only speak our truth but also listen to our partner’s truth without reacting and creating distance.