You start off with good intentions.
Somewhere in your exchange, things get a little heated.
That one comment SETS. YOU. OFF.
Your whole body tenses up and contracts, especially around your chest. Your whole system goes into attack mode. Any comment or remark your partner shares is now fuel and ammunition for you to prove him/her wrong.
Before you know it, this sweet intentioned conversation has turned into a battle where you are determined to come out on top. No surrender, no treaties. Victory.
You’re both pushing each other away with walls around your heart. And, if you let it go on long enough, you both end up with hurt feelings and tightly crossed arms.
Nothing “productive” or connection building comes from of this way of relating. In a weird way, it can be momentarily satisfying, but ultimately; it just totally sucks. It cuts you both off from a heartfelt exchange, empathy, and the crucible to intimacy: vulnerability.
This battlefield conversation is not exactly the open safe space for either of you to share the tender places inside. It can also be so painful to want to be close, but feel far from it.
Even with good intentions, defenses and walls can be up in full effect. It’s a super common phenomena, one that most couples bump into from time to time. You’re both humans, of course you will disagree and get triggered from time to time. Totally okay.
Our defenses aren’t total villains though. They developed at some point in your life to prevent you from getting hurt and keep you safe. This was usually sometime in childhood when you were rather powerless. And at that time, the defense mechanism worked brilliantly.
This trouble is, we keep applying the same method to prevent hurt even when it doesn’t still apply. Not only that, it doesn’t really work anymore. And on top of that, it is preventing you from what you really want: true closeness with your partner.
The work, then, is to soothe the scared part of yourself, and discover what you need in the present moment to feel safe to move forward in a loving, open way.
Here are the best ways I’ve found to do just that:
1. Recognize that you or your partner is defended
This is super crucial because you can’t become undefended until you realize that you are defended. The earlier you notice it the better. The body sensations are usually the first things to note: tightness in the chest, constricted belly, numbness or cut off sensation from the pelvis down, clenched jaw, and a buzzing feeling in your head are some common ones
Some other telling areas to tune into:
- The tone of your voice
- Body posture (arms crossed? Turned away from partner?)
- Listening Ability (are you actually hearing what your partner says, or just patiently waiting for your turn to lay it down?)
The more you practice this, you catch the more subtle and refined cues that are unique to you.
2. Name it Out loud.
Once you recognize the walls are up, share to your partner. Something like, “Whoa, I just noticed I’m really defended right now.” If you are feeling open, but start to notice your partner's walls come up, find a sweet, soft, kind (and non condescending) way to acknowledge it.
This can be delicate, since you don’t want to make your partner feel wrong. That’s a recipe for more defensiveness.
Something like, “Hey baby, it feels like this conversation is getting heated and it’s harder for me to really feel you. Do you feel defended toward me? ” It helps to have talked about this phenomena before you are in the heat of the moment, so your partner can register what you are speaking to. It super helps if you both have agreed to take responsibility for the ways you communicate in your relationship.
Naming the walls brings it from the unspoken invisible tension and into the tangible. Now you can work with it.
3. Take space
Generally, since our defense mechanisms have powerful and enticing momentum, it requires some sort of space to interrupt the pattern.
This can look in several different ways and will vary based on your own preferences and what is needed in the moment. Taking literal space is an option. Go into separate rooms for a few minutes or take a walk. Taking a big pause in the conversation while you sit side by side can also be an option. They key is come back into your own energy field, and do some inner work.
If you are feeling very activated with a lot of charge moving through you, a walk or some movement can be supremely helpful.
An important part of this is that you orient your partner what you are doing so they don’t feel in the dark or abandoned by your taking space. There’s a big difference in storming out of the room without saying a word, and saying, “Hey babe, I’m going to take some space in the living room to calm down. I’ll be back in 10 minutes. I’m still with you. This convo is important, I just need to take care of myself for a sec so I can be more present/kind/actually hear you.”
4. Feel & Inquire
While you are taking space, feel the feels and inquire within.
Not quite sure how to do that? Read my post on how to actually feel your feelings HERE.
Take big deep breaths and ask yourself, “What am I protecting?” Our walls serve this purpose of protection, so inquiring like this takes us to the root of what we are scared of or where we aren’t feeling seen, heard, or acknowledged. Examining the moment that originally set you off can hold some clues.
5. What do you need?
Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Specifically what does the scared part of you need to feel safe and open. Ask sincerely and listen for what arises.
This could be something you can give yourself in that moment, and also some ingredient that could be brought into the conversation. This could also be a variety of things like acknowledgement, a good cry, gentleness, being heard, seen, or held. Watch out for the tendency to put it all on the other, and see what you can source for yourself. Both are usually helpful and present.
6.Come back together
Once you feel like a little more resourced, clear, and calm, come back together with your partner. If you are doing your inner work, and still feel a bit too heated to continue the conversation, come back to your partner to let them know this. There’s nothing wrong with bookmarking.
If you do feel ready to reconvene, it’s is a good time to apologize that things got so contracted. Make eye contact, maybe even hold hands for a moment to connect. Next, share any insights and make requests for the rest of the conversation. Trying your damnedest to stick to your experience and avoid punishing or “making wrong” sort of requests.
Lean in and share what is tender and scared inside of you. Most partners, when you share the core vulnerable part, can have empathy; It’s the shutting out that is painful.
If you are feeling a sense of defended-ness over a longer span of time, not just a single heated convo, be sure to let your partner know where you are in your process, even if you don’t understand it yet.
The simple communication of “Hey babe, I know I’ve been really defensive recently, and it doesn’t feel good. I don’t totally understand why, but I’m doing my best to work on it and get to an open place again.” This let’s your partner in on your process instead of keeping them in the dark. It creates a sense of being on the same team together.
This process can take time to master, but any step in this direction can make a world of a difference! Remember that communication, orientation, and self sourcing are the keys for letting the walls come down. Lean into vulnerability and be amazed at the rate in which you and your boo find yourself again in a yummy heart space.