Recently, a young, married mother, was reflecting with me about several improvements in her life. Her voice suddenly shifted from upbeat to a mildly distressed tone as she talked about her fear of addressing conflict with her husband. After long standing patterns of conflict avoidance and then heated arguing, she was pretty sure things between them would get worse even if she flawlessly executed the I-messages we role played together.
Changing longstanding patterns is hard work. Pain is a powerful motivator and it can help supply the energy needed to deal with things we’ve previously avoided. Letting go of the illusion we can control the response we receive when we begin interacting from this healthier space, is another matter that often must be resolved. It was at this point in her processing that we identified the demon of defensiveness she’s been contending with as she tries to implement healthy changes in her marriage.
One problem with defensiveness is that it keeps its user stuck in the faulty belief that he or she must win. I must be right, you must be wrong. Defensiveness, in this way, prevents intimacy and escalates conflict. The freedom that comes from being at peace with our humanness and giving ourself permission to be wrong, awakens us to a new dimension of wholeness. It esteems us and brings us to a new level of self love and dignity. This brings newfound peace and happiness. Laying down defensiveness sets us free to listen without fear. Hearing each other and being willing to say, “I’m sorry, you are hurting, I was wrong”, brings healing and clears the way to the closeness we desire. This shift changes everything for evermore. There may be nothing more freeing than the moment you consciously accept your partner’s appeal, trusting his feedback without fear. In the process, you may feel a long-held, sigh of relief from deep within and wonder why you fought this acceptance for so long. Until we let go of defending ourselves it’s a freedom we will not enjoy. Once we experience it, we more easily welcome feedback with openness and a willingness to look for our limitations and grow closer through conflict rather than become stuck in it. We can find peace and harmony with one another where there was once strife and heartache.
The next time you’re tempted to become defensive, try asking yourself how things could be different if instead, you listen and accept the possibility that defensiveness has been standing in the way of your happiness. Try letting go of needing to be right.