Picture this: you are engaged in an activity with your partner. As you go about your business together, you are having a casual conversation. At some point the conversation turns a bit more serious; your partner tells you that they were hurt by something you said or did last night. What do you do?
My guess is that your initial reaction would be to defend your actions, saying you didn't say that, mean that or intend for that consequence. You might even come back at partner with a "Well, you did…" Your partner then defends their actions and both of you end up with your shields up. The conversation deteriorates and, more often than not, concludes up with both of you feeling miserable and disconnected from each other.
Throwing up that defensive shield is most people's first reaction. Your partner would probably have the same reaction if the situation were reversed and you were trying to address your hurt feelings. So what's going on when this happens? Why do we react like this?
When the initial statement of pain was issued, the emotional need behind it was missed in favor of defending ourselves. It is a knee-jerk reaction, and one that many people have. We have a natural inclination to defend ourselves, but when we defend, we stay in our own experience — failing to join and connect with our partner on their level.
Defending automatically puts up a wall between partners. It says to them that their experience is not valid. From this place, very little healing, growth and connection can take place. Connection with our partners is something we all crave; it is essential to our lives as social beings. What if instead of defending our position (in a safe, non-abusive relationship) we chose to step into our partner's experience, see their emotional need and address it? This requires letting go of the need to win a discussion or argument. It requires truly looking with our heart at what is underneath the statement that our partner is making. It requires stepping forward and connecting, instead of staying in our own experience of what happened.
If our partner was hurt by something we said or did, we should be more concerned with healing their hurt than with defending ourselves and being right. Responding in this compassionate way way creates a deeper connection between partners and has the power to calm ongoing communication glitches.
Loving our partners in this way is difficult. It requires effort and awareness. Sometimes it requires taking several deep breaths. We are often so attached to our own experiences that it is challenging to let go of the need to win or to be right. But the potential rewards in love and connection are greater. Watch for the times when you might be able to love your partner in this unconditional, caring way. Take some of those deep breaths before you respond and let love lead, enhancing the connection between your heart and theirs.
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