Tired of Defending?
No matter what you say or do your partner thinks you are judging him or her. S/he asks for clarity about what you were thinking. You explain and still s/he is convinced you were judging.
Even as I write this and my partner calls from the other room, "I found the iron on last week." I have a choice to hear him with jackal ears and think he is trying to make me wrong. Or I can assume his intentions are supportive and say, "Are you wanting to help me with awareness around that?" Wow, it feels so much better in my body and heart to speak from this place of guessing a positive intention.
Unfortunately this isn't always so easy for your partner to do and you find yourself defending against something you haven't done. You can't change the way your partner hears you, but you can choose your response and the way you hear him or her.
Perhaps the simplest relief from defending is to recognize that you don't have to do it. A student of mine, let's call her Nancy, recently said that when her partner asked her if she was judging him she would explain just what she was thinking and doing and how she wasn't judging and then start to feel resentful for "having to prove herself." I offered that she could simply answer with, "No, not judging you." If her partner wants more information, he can do the work of deciding what specific information would meet his needs for clarity and reassurance. In this way he takes responsibility for his interpretations, rather than his partner taking responsibility by trying to prove her good intentions.
At a more subtle level, the more connected you are to your own sense of goodness, the less reactive you tend to be when others project bad motives onto you. Connected to your own goodness it is easier to hear other's doubts as about them and their needs rather than as about you.
From this consciousness, Nancy might answer her partner with empathy. He asks, "Are you judging me?" She responds, "Feeling worried, huh?"
This is a bit more difficult for Nancy when her partner isn't aware that he is worried about her judging and instead expresses it as a should. He says, "You should be more accepting."
It might be difficult for Nancy to remember that behind any should is a whole world of observations, thoughts, feelings, needs and requests. Remembering this is true doesn't mean she does the work of identifying all this for her partner. It does, however, keep her from believing it at face value and enables her to ask for something different. She might respond by saying, "Hearing you say that, I feel disconnected and want to understand where you are coming from. Could you tell me what's going on for you underneath that?
We could sum it all up like this. When you feel yourself starting to defend, you have at least four options:
- One, take a moment to connect with the truth of your own goodness and good intentions.
- Two, answer the question at face value and let the other person do the work of asking further questions if they want more clarity.
- Three, offer empathy.
- Four, ask for more honesty.
This week notice when you start to defend. Notice how your body gets tight and you start to feel desperate for the other to understand you. Notice how you start to explain your behavior and give all the good reasons why you did what you did. Notice how you emotionally jump up and down trying to convince the other of your good intentions. Ask yourself, is this what I want to be doing right now? Is this really helping? Then choose one of the four options above to practice.
*jackals refer to any language or thoughts that disconnect us from life.