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Tired of Defensiveness? Try This Instead!

Written on July 12th

July 2017

Want to know one of the most essential elements to a healthy, conscious, connected, thriving relationship and the perfect antidote to defensiveness?

Here are 3 ways and situations in which we think CURIOSITY is the best response we can choose!

(1) When your partner shares something upsetting to them

Whether the upset involves you or not, here are some people’s favorite go-to responses…

– jumping right into advice giving

– judging them for overreacting, for being too sensitive, etc.

– “Yea, but…”

– “You are only saying that because…”

– “Well, you’re just going to have to…”

– “I did not!”

– “That is not what happened.”

All of the above responses can feel invalidating, unhelpful, and disconnecting, and the list of them goes on and on.

Instead, a curious response would look something like…

– getting curious about what it must feel like for them (i.e. empathy!)

– getting curious about how their perspective makes sense (everyone makes sense if we look closely enough)

– getting curious to understand and appreciate them

This list leads to connection.

It gets you out of your knee-jerk, automatic reactions and allows you to pause and step into your beloved’s world and heart.

So often, what we humans long for most of all is to be heard, seen, felt, and acknowledged. Curiosity is so far beyond one person being right and the other person being wrong.

It’s simply about seeing how each other makes sense.

Curiosity is inseparable from true understanding. If we go into seeing how someone makes sense with our pre-prescribed judgment or assessment of them or the situation, we are still in our heads.

Be in the moment, with genuine curiosity, in order to see the situation and the person most clearly, wisely, and open-heartedly.

(2) When your beloved shares an idea or perspective with you

Whether it’s about how to parent the kids, how to handle a situation with your in-laws, what to do about the co-worker who keeps flirting, where to go for dinner, or what color to paint the living room, rather than simply shutting down your beloved’s ideas, quickly dismissing them, or jumping in with your own ideas, we highly recommend first pausing to really consider and get curious about their perspective. See how their ideas also make sense and are valuable, and verbally acknowledge this with them.

(Loving tip: If you don’t see any value in their perspective, that is your issue, not theirs.)

Sometimes defensiveness can look like someone being really opinionated. Being “opinionated” is a form of defensiveness in the sense that it is an attachment to defending one’s own ideas. When we are practicing curiosity, it’s not that we don’t have an opinion. It’s just that we take the time to get out of our own opinions and ideas to get genuinely curious about and learn from the ideas of others too.

Some of the most common “addictions” we see in our office are the addiction to being right and the addiction to being heard over hearing others. These things pretty much never lead to true happiness or a thriving connection!

Even if their idea seems really outlandish to you and you can think of a dozen reasons it’s a terrible idea, you miss out on an opportunity to better know, hear, value, understand, learn from, grow with, and connect to your beloved if you don’t pause to really get curious about it with them.

You may be familiar with a popular game in the world of improv. It’s called the “yes and” game. The way it works is that someone starts telling a story. Then, the next person in the circle says “yes AND…” and adds to it. There is no room for “but,” no room to dismiss another person’s perspective. It’s all about yes AND. We love this game!

Or maybe you’ve been in one of those healthy group settings where the leader gets out a big piece of paper or wipe board and asks for ideas – ANY ideas! As people share, rather than selecting what does or doesn’t make the list, every idea has value and is included among the options. This is a healthy dynamic – when we first consider, with curiosity, all ideas — before instantly turning them down.

(3) When someone gives you feedback about yourself

Perhaps this is the hardest for you. It is for a lot of people.​​

We’re not suggesting that you need to take in everything everyone says about you. That wouldn’t be healthy either. However, when someone gives us any sort of feedback about ourselves, we believe it’s a healthy practice to at least pause, in a really self-compassionate way, to see what part of the feedback could be true or valuable to learn from.

It is the wise person who, when given feedback about themselves, pauses with curiosity before defending themselves. The pause may last minutes or hours or days in order for the wise person to get curious about the feedback, sit with it, explore it, try it on, and see what is there for them to learn and grow from. They do this in a way that is full of self-compassion, humility, a sincere desire to validate others, and a commitment to grow into the very best version of themselves.

Also, if your partner’s feedback to you is the suggestion that you are being defensive, and you respond with “I am not being defensive,” we invite you to especially give curiosity a try! 🙂

Whether it’s someone sharing their feelings, their ideas, or their feedback, we lovingly encourage you to practice HEART-centered curiosity (very different from critical interrogating!).

Also, know that these curiosity tips go way beyond just your intimate partnership. They work for ALL relationships — in your family, in friendships, in the workplace, in conversations with those from different political or cultural backgrounds, and far beyond!

People will be so much more likely to hear you, to really take in and value what you have to say — if you first get curious about truly understanding them, their perspective, their feelings, and their opinions.

When we can fully hear and get curious about the perspectives of others when they are different from our own — without dismissing them, invalidating them, getting defensive, overriding them with our own opinions and ideas, making them wrong, criticizing, or trying to convince them to agree with us, we know we’ve reached a level of emotional maturity where thriving love is possible!

And we believe it’s possible for you!

If you find that defensiveness is preventing you from having the kind of relationship you long for, bringing in a caring and neutral third party (especially when they are armed with tons of relationship tools!) can be utterly transformative and defense-melting. Simply know we are here for you with all our hearts if we can be of service! Learn more about our counseling and coaching HERE and our next Thrive in Love retreat HERE.

We’re wishing you an abundance of moments where you can explore one another and life with a joyful sense of wonder, curiosity, and sweet togetherness!

Infinite Love and Joy,
Christine and Bret


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