The Hidden Gifts of Taking Responsibility

Last month I challenged you to take a look at the level of fulfillment you receive from your relationship and I promised that we would then turn to discussing four communication patterns that can be destructive to intimacy. So, let’s get started!

In his over forty years of marriage research, John Gottman, Ph.D., identified four distinct styles of communication that contribute to the destruction of intimacy. The first style we’re going to explore is defensiveness. Defensiveness, which can take the form of innocent victimhood or righteous indignation, is characterized by any effort to protect oneself from a perceived harm or danger. And while defensiveness may be a response to a criticism (more about criticism in the future), the defensive communicator is really saying, “I’m not to blame here” or “That’s not my fault.” It’s a sneaky tactic that allows the communicator to redirect fault.

Although it’s rarely easy in relationships, it is our job to take responsibility for our part in things. And that is exactly the antidote to defensiveness: taking responsibility. Rather than responding to a perceived threat in a defensive manner, the partner who wants to respond defensively has a golden learning opportunity. This is his/her big chance to stop, reflect on the situation, and clarify “What is my part in this exchange” or “What am I responsible for here.” You may only be responsible for a part of the problem, but that’s your part to own and focus on improving.

You may be a great communicator, but there are times when we all get defensive. So, if you find yourself wanting to respond defensively to your partner (or friend, family member, boss, etc.), stop yourself from becoming reactive and take a few minutes to examine the situation. Identify what your responsibility is in the scenario. Share your part and any improvements you are willing to make. This way you’ll work towards transforming what could have become a gigantic and painful argument into a productive conversation which can lead to greater compromise and understanding.

See you next month when we tackle another intimacy destroying tactic! Did you see the hint to it above? Until then, be well and love one another!