Understanding Defensive Strategies 1

What role do defenses play in a marriage?

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, marriage can sometimes be a painful experience because it’s not just an intimate relationship – it’s the type of relationship where all your strengths and weaknesses are bared to another person.

When a person’s true strengths and weaknesses are revealed even to just one person, you will feel more vulnerable because the walls that used to protect your most vulnerable spots are now thinner and more transparent.

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Why do we put up defenses?

The number one reason why people put up psychological and emotional defenses is they want to feel some level of secureness in the marriage. We humans are extremely complex beings.

It’s not enough that we are part of an established social structure (e.g. marriage), we must also be able to fulfill very specific and complex needs within this social structure.

Our complex nature can sometimes cause us to overuse defensive techniques to the point that a person becomes thoroughly detached from the marriage itself.

A person can be physically present but through his mental and emotional defenses, he can effectively detach himself from the reality of the relationship. When a person is emotionally detached, the other half of the relationship can feel hurt and abandoned – and this trend can go on for many, many years.

What is the nature of our emotional and mental defenses?

Defenses are essential “self-centric” constructs (not really selfish in the popular sense of the word).

People mentally craft personal defenses to ensure that they are separated or protected from being hurt by situations, events and especially other people.

Our thoughts and emotions are inextricably linked to our self-preservation instincts so it can be quite difficult to step out of the “self-centric” mode of thinking because that’s how we evolved collectively as a species.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should just allow our instinctual impulses to rule our lives. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom because we can consciously suspend, or even ignore, our instinctual drives as we see fit.

So people who use mental and emotional defenses too much can choose to repair their relationships even if this means that they have to let some of their major defenses down.

If your marriage means a lot to you, letting down your defenses is actually easier than it seems.

Why should you be more comfortable letting down your defenses?

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier section, we put up defenses because we feel that we are being hurt in the relationship. This is a critical juncture that you should focus on because when a person puts up defenses, he is merely protecting himself from being hurt.

What he’s not doing is nurturing himself and the marriage by finding a way to solve the issue that is actually causing all the hurt. Our defenses produce two very distinct outcomes:

1. They protect us from feeling a type of pain that results from conflicts in the relationship.

2. They protect our beliefs and values by chipping away at the marriage itself.

In a way, our defenses rock the very foundations of marriage because it closes off a part of yourself and what’s “left” of you might not be sufficient to sustain the marriage anymore.

How does overuse of defenses damage your marriage?

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When you use defenses mindlessly and you don’t care about the results, or making it up to your spouse at a later time, you can be assured that your defenses are causing damage, one way or another.

Below are just some ways that your mental and emotional defenses are causing havoc in your relationship:

1. Defenses widen the gap between two people who already feel alienated from each other.

2. The first thing defenses usually erode is intimacy itself, which is at the core of married life.

3. Sometimes, our defenses create false projections of how we truly feel and what we are really thinking.

What about conflicts in a relationship?

You must always remember that conflict is inevitable in a relationship but this does not mean that you are not a good husband or wife. It just means that you are presently dealing with a normal part of married life.

Instead of shying away from issues and conflicts, what you should do is adopt a collaborative and problem-solving mindset to ensure that you are always ready to resolve conflicts whenever they arise. Do not allow conflicts to take root in your relationship – remedy them as soon as you can!

In a way, this is a form of deception because you’re letting your spouse believe that you’re in state A, while you’re really in state Z.

4. Too many defenses used all at once can cause your spouse to feel abandoned.

When a person feels abandoned and alone, he/she stops trusting the one person that was supposed to be there through thick and thin. Remember the commitment you made to each other? You’re effectively forgetting that commitment every time you choose to use your defenses.

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