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Marriage and Family

A Bad Defence is a Worse Offense

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07/01/2010 - Try imagine what your world would be like if every person shifted blame to you for problems or unpleasant circumstances. Here are a few examples of what you may hear.

Instead of informing you of a medical diagnosis and what treatment options are available, a doctor may say, "I can't believe you. If you would just quit your habits than this never would have happened."

A boss at work may confront you over inner-office difficulties. He may say "There was a time when this team functioned. I don't care how you all feel about my managerial style but if this doesn't turn around you will be looking for a new job by this weekend."

A burnt dinner cooked by the restaurant chef would be served with a side of "You people have too high of demands. Look around at how busy we are, if you would be a little more patient than this wouldn't have happened."

The waiter at this restaurant may say, "This wasn't my fault. Maybe your tastes are too refined and you need to get a little more realistic."

Your child brings home a bad grade then immediately spouts out, "Well, you're an equally bad parent. You are supposed to help me and instead you sit around and yell at me. That just makes it even harder on me."

We can probably think of many scenarios. Some may be ridiculous such as a chef blaming you for his poor cooking, but some of these may be precisely what you encounter in your life. All of these have one thing in common. They are all forms of defensiveness which is Gottman's third horseman of the apocalypse.

In many ways, we all tend to become defensive if and when we feel we are being criticized or attacked. If threatened in any way, we have a natural tendency to defend ourselves. The hope being that, in our defense, the other person may realize that they are attacking, then apologize or acknowledge that they are wrong and back down. What actually ends up happening is that the other person feels that shift in blame, feels attacked, becomes defensive and sends the blame back. Then the cycle feeds on itself and intensifies. At this point, the fight is on!

When dealing with conflict, be sensitive to your tendency to be defensive. It is easy to pick up when the other person is being defensive but resist the urge to point this out to them. Remember, this will not have the desired effect. If the other person is being defensive, see this as a reflection of your own actions. In order to break down those barriers make yourself do what is counter-intuitive. Tell the other person they are right! You are not agreeing to the situation you are arguing about, but you are agreeing that you can make adjustments in how the situation is handled. Agree that you can do things differently and commit to doing so for the next time. Often, you may notice the other person make the same commitment.

* Gottman, J.M. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

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