3 Steps To Stop Nagging & Defensiveness To Fix The Real Issue In Your Relationship

There's a better way to handle this, if you get to the root of the problem.

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There's no doubt that scary stuff happens all of the time.

Violent attacks around the globe and mass shootings may make you feel vulnerable.

The world seems like an unpredictable and hostile place. It's enough to make a person want to run and hide.

Scary stuff may also be happening or about to happen in your own home or relationship.

It's estimated that more than 10 million women and men in the U.S. are physically abused by an intimate partner each year. We urge anyone who is being abused in any way to get to a safe space to heal and make decisions about what truly is in their best interests. 


Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.

Even if you're lucky enough to be in a relationship that's free from violence and abuse, everyday tensions can contribute to anxiety, nervousness, and worry. You may not literally fear for your life, but intense emotions can cause you to shut down and pull away from your partner. The fear you feel in your relationship may not make logical sense to you or your partner, but the sensation is there and your reaction to it is very real.  


The difficulty with fear is that we humans are biologically wired to react to it, even if we do so dramatically. Many of us automatically flip into a fight or flight mode when we feel somehow threatened, sometimes without even realizing we're doing it.  

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A fear-induced reaction can look or sound like this:

  1. Sarcasm/Cutting "humor"  
  2. Defensiveness 
  3. Nagging/Anger over little things 
  4. The "silent treatment
  5. Numbing the pain with alcohol, drugs, or food
  6. Withdrawing into work, electronic devices, or otherwise keeping busy 

These reactions aren't always or necessarily an indication that you or your partner are afraid, but many times they are. When reactions like these become the status quo in your relationship, it's nearly impossible to nurture the kind of love and connection you want. What's important is to get curious and recognize that you're pulling away from yourself and your partner.


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If anxiety or fear is compelling you to react, use the following three steps to find the bravery hidden inside:

1. Acknowledge your fears.

Admit that you feel what you feel, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you. The very first step to a courageous and brave response to any situation is to own up to any anxiety you've got going on. It's not going to magically go away. Acknowledge your fears without growing them.   

2. Realize that you can be brave.

Believe it or not, an essential part of acknowledging your fears without growing them is to create space and recognize that you have the capacity for bravery. Think about times in your life when you stood strong in the face of a challenge. Maybe you spoke your truth when it was difficult to do so, or you took action even though it was not easy to do. 

3. Question everything.

When you're in a calmer and clearer mental space, you can begin to ask questions. Start out by asking yourself what you actually know is true. Too often, we make up stories that come directly from our fears, not facts. Gently question what you think you know, and you may be surprised when a scary situation turns out to be much less scary. As you ask gentle questions to get to facts, be sure to really listen.


RELATED: 9 Signs You're Nagging Your Partner — And Slowly Killing Your Relationship

This includes questions you ask of yourself like, "What is most important to me about this?" or "Why does this upset me so much?" Listen without being critical or judgmental and use what you learn to make a decision that supports you and your relationship.   

Remember, bravery doesn’t come from squashing the needs or wants of others.

It's about advocating for yourself in a respectful and loving way. It's also about creating space for cooperation and solutions where everyone feels heard.  


Have you noticed? When you say things to your partner in certain ways, they bristle or shrink and pull away from you and when you say things in other ways, they move closer to you!

RELATED: I Broke The Vow I Made To Never Nag My Husband — And I Regret It

Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches and authors who help couples communicate, connect, and create the relationship they desire.