Over the years I’ve worked with people in relationships, I’ve come to understand that one of the most common things people do when their partner begins to list their faults is to react with defensiveness rather than openness.
Video – avoiding defensiveness
This behavior is a hangover from childhood, where criticism from our parents is generally much more severe in the child’s eyes than it is in the parents’.
In other words, we take these things very seriously as a child, partly because of our comparative powerlessness (at least when compared to the grown-ups). As a result, we almost always react with self defence or blaming others when accuse us of doing anything.
What never seems to happen for the majority of people is the expected transition to emotional maturity where you understand that when someone else starts talking about how they’d like you to change or asking why you’ve done something, defensiveness isn’t necessary.
After all, another adult can’t diminish your self-esteem or attack you unless you allow them to. (Of course some people lack the skills of relationship that would allow them to defend themselves or even be assertive – but that’s another issue altogether.)
So it’s common for men and women to react with defensiveness to their partners’comments, questions, and suggestions. It’s what they learned in childhood.
But that’s not really helpful reaction in an intimate, adult relationship because it destroys the possibility of open and honest communication.
But when you allow yourself to hear information rather than complaints or putdowns (or anything else negative), you’re in a much better space to consider whether or not you are doing things that are helpful or unhelpful to the relationship.
If you tend to react with agitation, distress and defensiveness, your communication – and your relationship – is going nowhere. The motto here is “respond, not react”.
But when Michael’s partner (he’s the man whose experience is described on this page) started to suggest he was doing things she didn’t like or distressed her, he reacted with defensiveness and anger.
Now, evicted from their shared home by his ex-partner, he decided it was time to start considering whether or not there was anything in what she’d been saying to him. After all, what he knew was that he lacked relationship advice, and he definitely wanted to know how to win her back.
So, if you’re in this situation, you can do what Michael did, by listing what you might previously have seen as your partner’s complaints, but which you can now hopefully see as just information about your behaviour.
Video – open communication
The Sticking Points Of Michael’s Break Up
To start with, if, like Michael, you’ve ever been unfaithful, either emotionally or physically, you’d better stop defending your conduct – which was a kind of betrayal and treachery.
Next, how did you treat your ex-partner? Did you spend time with them, show them love and affection, look forward to spending intimate times with them, or did you show more affection to other women or men, flirt with other people all the time, put your ex-partner down, or constantly disagree with him or her?
Were you emotionally open, sharing your issues and concerns, or were you closed, confiding more in your friends, or even preferring to spend more time with your friends than you did with your ex?
Let’s face it, you probably did some or all of these things – and lots of others besides. And the fact is, unless you’re willing to take responsibility and clean up your act, then you just simply aren’t going to be getting back with an ex. Which leads us on to Step 3.
Step 3 Change how you operate
No matter what faults you’ve identified in yourself, the object isn’t self-indulgence or blame – it’s to actually learn something constructive about how you can conduct yourself in the future.
Getting back with your ex will require you to change how you operate; it’s obvious that if you had been behaving in a way that would strengthen the relationship, then you’d never have broken up in the first place. And you don’t need a break-up adviser to tell you that!
So presuming you really are willing to change your attitudes and behaviour, and you really do want to save your relationship (or you want to know how to save your marriage), then let’s move on.
Accepting you might be guilty of some failings is absolutely necessary before you can start cleaning them up.
So if you had an affair, you might want to start by considering what it was that you got from the affair that you weren’t getting in your relationship with your ex.
Now, I’ve had dealings with some people who said that having an affair saved their relationship, and I daresay that can be true. But if you had an implicit or explicit agreement to stay faithful to your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, then having an affair, no matter how it may have served you, does hint at an underlying lack of openness and trust in the relationship.
There’s definitely something for you to learn here. If you weren’t getting something so important to you that you sought it out in an affair, how well is your relationship going to survive if you go back into it still unable to get what you want from your ex?
Video – how to survive an affair
Don’t you think the probability of having a harmonious relationship is going to be greater if you learn something constructive from what’s happened in the past?
Your ex might not even know about the affair (although Michael’s ex did), in which case keep it to yourself – revealing it will probably not do any good; in fact it will probably destroy any chance you have of getting over the breakup.
If your ex does know about your illicit relationship then you might want to explain why you had an affair and what you’re going to do to avoid the possibility of that occurring in the future. Simply telling your ex that you won’t be unfaithful is probably not going to be good enough, because the truth is you said that once before and didn’t keep your promise.
Instead, you might analyze how you were feeling immediately before the affair, and whether or not drugs or alcohol were involved when you took the decision to have sex with another person.
For example, perhaps it was lack of intimacy and affection in your relationship that led you to seek it somewhere else. Perhaps it was a lack of excitement or adventure. Perhaps it was frustration because your partner wasn’t able to meet your sexual needs. The lesson will be individual to you, but it’s important to understand what it might be, so you can avoid making the same mistake in the future.
Suppose, for example, that your partner complained that you never shared your feelings. Is that true? Was that because of something that happened to you in childhood – was the sharing of feelings either discouraged or even completely suppressed in your family of origin?
Whatever the difficulty might be that your partner is complaining of, it’s up to you to find a way of putting things right.
So if your ex girlfriend or ex-boyfriend is complaining there were no positive conversations in your relationship, you might want to start by considering whether or not that’s true. Have you been avoiding talking to your partner? And if you were avoiding talking to your partner, was that because any communication always seem to lead to the same old arguments, with you ending up feeling diminished in some way?
OK. Here’s the sticking point. Can you accept at this may not be about your ex-partner, but about you? And about your inability to maintain your emotional strength and presence in the world in the face of what you think is an attack from someone else?
In either case, this is why learning how to communicate effectively – both listening and speaking – is absolutely essential for any relationship, and even more essential when you’re discovering how to get your ex back.
If you want to look at some listening skills which will go a long way towards enabling better communication, then you can find them by clicking above. Good listening skills can make the tone of any conversation more positive.
The point most people don’t even grasp is that maintaining a loving relationship is something that requires a lot of effort and is really quite a skilled activity.
To resolve conflict, talking in a collaborative and communicative way rather than a conflictual way, and to be able to regulate your own emotions so that you can respond rather than react are all illustrations and aspects of emotional maturity.
It’s common to find men shutting themselves off from their partners because men often don’t know how to express what they’re feeling, or they feel that they won’t be understood, or that expressing feelings is weak in some way.
But at the end of the day, if you think about it, all of these behaviors are a sign that you don’t have a strong self-esteem or a level of self-worth and confidence sufficiently high for you to be able to speak your truth without fear.
So retreating into what’s often been called a man’s “cave” might be natural, in the sense that a lot of men do it, but it’s really rather unhelpful in a relationship. If something is depressing you, then why not try communicating more openly about it, and taking more positive action in the world to avoid feeling depressed and powerless.