For you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. 11 In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile,[c]circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized,[d] slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3: 8-15 (NLT)
I can not believe it! Married almost 40 years, my husband and I recently engaged in some very defensive behavior in the middle of Sams over the use of a grocery cart. We were in a cycle of being critical, reacting with defensiveness, using negative controlling words and were in a heightened sense of aggressive defensiveness. We both knew that this conflict was not actually over a grocery cart, but over something much deeper, as is true of most cycles of conflict.
To battle the war of who is right often leads to a lose/lose situation. A main weapon in that war, defensiveness, is an impulsive, reactive way of coping with the fear of _______ (fill in the blank…not important, not good enough, devalued, disrespected etc). It is a way of putting up a shield over that fear to protect and control a perceived threat.
This shield of defensiveness is like a wall separating the connection in a relationship. When two people are in protection mode, vulnerability is stifled. Intimacy(or connection) thrives on vulnerability, openness and trust. A change in our reactive behavior is necessary to minimize these protective walls. Less defensive talking, more active listening gives productive understanding about the other person, providing a greater opportunity to be more emotionally engaged…connected.
So, how did my husband and I end our cycle of defensiveness and engage in active listening (listening with curiosity) to understand the view point of the other?
Someone had to put their wall down and let go of their own agenda to be right before it was possible to understand the other person.
What needs to be done to let go of our protective walls? How can the behavior be changed?
Our brains are wired for connection and for self protection. It is a strong tension. Defensiveness self protects but disconnects the relational intimacy we long for. We must choose to take a risk, let go of the need to protect, and step toward reconnection by choosing to listen with a different filter.
We develop filters in childhood from our experiences with the world. We put on those flesh identities of; not good enough, powerless, devalued, unimportant, worthless, abandon..the list goes on. The fears that are formed in our emotional brain are then seen through the eyes of a child. These fears are not the truth. When we are defensive, we are reacting or coping from the perception of childhood.
Returning to my experience in Sams – I was feeling unloved, devalued and helpless in that moment – those are not true realities – as God sees me or even as my husband perceives me. I did not like those emotions so I was trying to control my husband’s behavior so I would not have those feelings. I need to “fire” my husband from being responsible for my feelings! I need to regulate my own feelings.
To regulate my feelings, I had to stop my emotional brain from traveling down those familiar neuropathways by changing my filter. IE: change how I was perceiving what was happening in Sams. I had to put on my identity of Christ (my changed filter) as a valued, competent, precious daughter and
- listen to my husband to
- understand his frustration for the evening and
- not personalize his reactive defensiveness. (What people say and do says more about them and their needs than it does about me.)
- to understand that his reactions are about his coping with his own fears, not about how he perceives me as a person.
Conflict is inevitable and will lead to more intimacy as it is resolved. We did stop our cycle of pain by listening and seeking to understand the other person and were closer after that conflict. We intentionally listened from the filter of our renewed selves in Christ and we were able to understand and respond from a place of love and not protection.
God is our source of love. It is His love that we need to show in our marriages and relationships. With His love implanted in our hearts we have no need to be defensive. Marriage is the union of two broken people. Healing a marriage starts with each individual recognizing their own brokenness, choosing to change by intentional efforts of letting go of the old self and embrace the transforming truth of the new identity in Christ.