In a previous post, I wrote about the "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" that lead to relationship disasters, one being defensiveness. Its opposite of course is curiosity, a willingness to hear and accept whatever your partner has to say, which is not the same as agreement. Being hard-wired to protect our self-interests, however, means that it takes considerable work to overcome defensiveness, especially when the words you hear seem threatening, as this defensiveness is "rooted in existential fears of rejection, abandonment, inadequacy," according to an article by marriage and family therapist Dr. Athena Staik. What does she recommend?
"Unless you develop the learned skill of consciously feeling and processing your feelings and thoughts, in moments when you get triggered, these defense mechanisms can rob you of your capacity to choose your thoughts and actions freely."
Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, and couple's therapy pioneer, teaches the Imago Dialogue as a way to by-pass defensiveness and pave the way for intimacy. This dialogue starts with safety and has three basic steps: mirroring, validation, and empathy. Here's an excellent primer on this way of connecting with your partner: IMAGO DIALOGUE 101.
Give it a try and let me know how it works out.