Friday, August 7th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
Don’t Defend Yourself


Every marriage/relationship has problems. In my observation I have found that those marriages that stay together and those that do not have the same problems. Perhaps one of the reasons that the marriages stay together is they have more effective coping skills. Many of the problems of marriage have to do with handling conflict. I have observed that many of our conflicts center around our wounds, our unresolved issues, and our expectations that are brought to the relationship. How we resolve these conflicts depends greatly on our coping skills and how we feel about ourselves in the relationship.

Just because we are having an argument or our partner is angry, is not a sign that the marriage/relationship is in trouble. It can become an opportunity to grow together. Ideally, we want our relationship to be safe enough to allow for the appropriate expressions of anger and other feelings. We want a relationship in which it is safe enough to be ourselves.

When our partner is upset with us,
we need to remember that he/she is
entitled to have her/his feelings and
to express them appropriately.

Have you ever done this in an argument with your partner? During a conflict, you think if you tell her why you did what you did, she will not be angry any more and the argument can end. You interrupt her and tell her why you did what you did, and instead of helping to end the argument, she seems more upset. You were hoping she would say, “Oh yes, I see what you mean! You have a good point.” Instead, she lashes back with some of these statements:

     • “You never listen.”
     • “Oh, it’s my fault, huh?”
     • “You are more interested in yourself than me.”
     • “There you go, only thinking about you.”
     • “You always have to be right.”

Being defensive or trying to defend yourself may be interpreted as blaming the other person, switching the attention away from your partner to yourself, appearing to be interested in only your needs, or that you are justifying your actions and disregarding her feelings and position. Instead of getting the results you want, you find the argument escalating.

When our partner is upset with us, we need to remember that he/she is entitled to have her/his feelings and to express them appropriately. To encourage this I have found that if we take turns listening to each other, the conflict goes better. If we can put our desire to defend ourselves aside and really focus on what our partner is saying, and give him/her feedback that says we are listening and valuing what is said, we can come to some sort of agreement. So, our first listening task is to focus on our partner in order to understand what he/she is feeling and thinking. After we have validated, after we have heard, and our partner knows we have heard and understood what is said, then we can share where we are coming from.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700