Mark Goulston, M.D.
Handle negative situations
One of the reasons that arguments escalate is that when people get defensive, they instinctively turn hostile towards the other person. Most people don’t even realize they are doing it, the way they can better handle negative situations, is if they acknowledge this problem, they can seek to control their hostility and prevent the arguments from escalating.
Why do fights turn mean so quickly? The reason that happens is because when no one is attacking you and you become defensive to protect yourself, the other person feels like you’re attacking them, until what you have is two people actually protecting themselves against feeling that the other person is attacking them. It’s interesting.
When I’ve seen couples and I’ve asked them, “What do you feel that the other person is telling you?” And what each person says is, “Well, what they’re saying to me is you’re wrong and I’m right.” Now, when I ask each of them, “Is that what you’re saying to the other person, ‘you’re wrong and I’m right’?” More often than not people will say, “No, what I’m really saying is I’m not wrong. I’m not always wrong.” And so when people realize that their way of protecting themselves comes off as an attack, and they find a way to stop doing that, the anger lessens in those fights.
Defensiveness is a common communiation issue. Habitual defensiveness is harmful as it creates a climate of friction and discord, leaving your partner feeling misunderstood and resentful. The benefit of not protecting yourself with hostile defensiveness, is taking personal responsibility, and lessoning anger.
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