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How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse #355488
07/11/14 01:35 AM
07/11/14 01:35 AM
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AntigoneRisen Offline OP
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Originally Posted By: Fiddler
Don't wanna threadjack AR. If you're genuinely interested in how it could be tracked, I'd be happy to discuss on another thread.


I'm interested, and I saw at least one other member who was...so, how about we discuss it here?


Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit

"That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." - Christopher Hitchens
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: AntigoneRisen] #355499
07/11/14 02:59 AM
07/11/14 02:59 AM
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right here waiting Offline
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"Tracking" defensiveness? How does that work? I'm intrigued. Yes, Fiddler, explain!

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: right here waiting] #355514
07/11/14 04:56 AM
07/11/14 04:56 AM
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I am interested also.

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Blair] #355522
07/11/14 05:20 AM
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Hi Fiddler
would value your input on this.. smile

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: loualea] #355584
07/11/14 05:33 PM
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Thank you for the interest! This is something that has become quite important to me and has made a difference is all of my RL relationships (online ones are a somewhat different story for a variety of reasons). If I understand correctly, the interest is in how to respond to a spouse (or other person) that is perceived to be "defensive."

"Tracking" is the particular approach I use for listening and validation. While there are some specific words that might be used, it is not so much a "technique" as a mindset and attitude. What makes some words more effective than others stem from this attitude, rather than the other way around. Because this is so different from the way we typically learn to respond, when explaining or analyzing a response, there is a high ratio of "behind the scenes" words to words that are actually spoken. If this seems to be over-thinking things, then tracking is probably not for you. As they say, YMMV.

The focus is primarily on feelings rather than thoughts or judgments, although they can become intertwined in any communication. Feelings are always "true" for the one feeling them, while thoughts and judgments may or not be true; while they may be "true" for the one believing them, that doesn't mean they are necessarily "true" for everyone.

All of this sets up an important precursor to how to respond to "defensiveness." "Feeling" defensive is both a feeling and a judgment. The "defensive" one judges that they have been attacked - and mentioned, like any judgment, this can be true or not. Indeed, calling someone defensive can itself reasonably be seen to be an attack!

On the other hand, the belief that another person is defensive is purely a judgment - which, again, could be right or wrong. When viewing the other person through the lens of this judgment, it is difficult, if not impossible, to validate their feelings. So, the first step in tracking defensiveness is to (temporarily at least) put aside the judgement that the other person is being defensive and focus on the feelings that they are expressing.

The primary feeling I have noticed in situations that have been labeled or judged "defensive" is feeling unsafe, especially when feeling criticized (which is another mixture of feelings and judgment). So the value of tracking/validating is to attempt to create an environment in which they feel safe in expressing what is going on for them.

Effective tracking is when every part of the response is only what the speaker has communicated (by what they said, what they haven't said, or by some nonverbal cue). When the listener/tracker injects their own thoughts, it tends to go off the rails because then it becomes about the listener rather than the speaker. When tracking, one is not trying to express one's own opinion or to express one's thoughts to the speaker; rather, the focus is 100% on the speaker and what they are expressing.

With that background, I can address how to track specific statements. The belief that one's spouse is "defensive" does not arise in a vacuum - rather, there are specific situations and words that are spoken that give rise to this belief. John Gottman lists "defensiveness" as one of his "Four Horsemen" that are damaging to relationships. The way he describes it, defensiveness is when someone perceives they are being attacked or criticized, and reacts by counter-attacking or blaming. So the key to tracking "defensiveness" is therefore to address and validate the feelings behind the counter-attack.


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355613
07/11/14 06:54 PM
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Do go on!

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355639
07/11/14 08:26 PM
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Quote:
So, the first step in tracking defensiveness is to (temporarily at least) put aside the judgement that the other person is being defensive and focus on the feelings that they are expressing.


Ok, first question. What if the person isn't expressing any feelings? What if they are displaying feelings, but what they are saying contains no references to what they are feeling?


Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit

"That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." - Christopher Hitchens
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: AntigoneRisen] #355641
07/11/14 08:28 PM
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or they vehemently deny any feelings you may attribute to them?


When we open to this moment and don't judge it or try to change it, even when we're suffering and wish it were otherwise, we tap into the spaciousness of mind that allows us to move forward skillfully, with discernment and joy. -- Sharon Salzberg
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: right here waiting] #355664
07/11/14 10:24 PM
07/11/14 10:24 PM
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Originally Posted By: AntigoneRisen
Quote:
So, the first step in tracking defensiveness is to (temporarily at least) put aside the judgement that the other person is being defensive and focus on the feelings that they are expressing.

Ok, first question. What if the person isn't expressing any feelings? What if they are displaying feelings, but what they are saying contains no references to what they are feeling?
Great question, and even more important point. Namely, that there is a huge difference between expressing a feeling by name and expressing a feeling but not identifying it as such. A tracking response is different for each situation.

My experience is that the latter is by far the most common situation. When that happens, the tracking process moves to both the speaker and the listener to better clarity about what the feelings expressed are. This is where care needs to be taken in peeling back the feelings in thin layers. How many times have you heard (or said?) "I'm NOT ANGRY!!!"

Specific examples might help illustrate this (and I hope to give one below).
Originally Posted By: Miranda
or they vehemently deny any feelings you may attribute to them?
The key phrase here is "you may attribute to them." Since feelings are completely internal to each person, that person (and only that person) is the arbiter of what they are feeling. Tracking is not about me, the listener, attributing feelings to the speaker, but rather taking relatively small steps, each one of which is verified by the speaker. There are certainly circumstances in which a person may be expressing feelings that they don't acknowledge; in those cases, pointing it out to them tends to take the whole conversation downhill (as in "I'm not angry").

Someone exhibiting what is judged to be "defensiveness" is inevitably expressing some kind of feeling. My experience has been that when I am "on-target" with the feeling, there is a palpable release of energy on the part of the speaker. It's as if with their body language they are saying "you got it - thank God somebody understands me!" This is where the limits of the printed word alone don't do justice to what I experience face-to-face. The manner in which tracking is done - tone of voice, body language, facial expression - all must be coherent with the speaker's and the listener's words. In the case of high-energy feelings being exhibited, this usually means raising one's energy to "match" - which is 180° from the "respond with calmness" that is often recommended.
Originally Posted By: right here waiting
Do go on!
Well, since you axed ... grin

I would like to have some specific examples so I can demonstrate. Until then, here is one John Gottman uses as an example of defensiveness:

Its not my fault that were always late, its your fault.

What he leaves out is the statement that preceded this. Had that been made more skillfully, the chances of a defensive reaction would be lessened (although not reduced to zero probability).

If I were to hear this, I would start by tracking the operative word - the one that gives a clue as to what is going on. Before I take this example further, what do you think is the "operative word" in this defensive statement?


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355682
07/11/14 11:53 PM
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Always?

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355696
07/12/14 02:21 AM
07/12/14 02:21 AM
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Originally Posted By: Fiddler
Before I take this example further, what do you think is the "operative word" in this defensive statement?


My guess is that it is the word (concept) fault.

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: TC_Manhattan] #355743
07/12/14 10:03 PM
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For me, the operative word is "always," and that is what I would focus on in responding. In general, words like "always" and "never" are keys to what the unspoken message usually is. My objective in responding is to uncover that hidden message in a way that "does no harm" - meaning that doesn't make either one of us "wrong."

Now, on the face of it, the "always" in the sentence is typically false. Meaning that if there has been one instance of us being on time, then "always" is not true. The mistake many make is in going down that rabbit hole of being technically "right" in that "always" is not true. Rather, "always" is a word used for emphasis as opposed to being meant literally. That is, "always" is literally meant figuratively. In other words, this person is expressing that being late has occurred much more often than they want. Therefore, a tracking response might be:

"So this has happened way too much for your comfort."

This response takes a step towards the underlying feeling without trying to name it, which would be counterproductive at this point. Where things go from here depends a lot on the response to this. If this were delivered with the appropriate energy, the chances are overwhelming that the answer would be "Yes!" From there, one could say something like "You want to be find a way to always be on time," which would then naturally to working together to find a solution.

On the other hand, instead of a "yes," there might be more feelings coming out, or even sarcasm ("Yeah right, like you really give a shinola!"). In which case one would continue to track this new feeling behind the judgment. Something like "So you don't feel your needs have been appreciated or honored in this area."

What I notice is that typically the "defensiveness" is not as problematic as the counter-attacking element, as in this instance. Another thing I notice is that what Gottman labels as "defensive" is often in reaction to being criticized or attacked. I'm under no illusions, however, that he will somehow choose to recognize this - "Three Horsemen" doesn't have quite the ring to it...


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355748
07/12/14 11:35 PM
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Quote:
The key phrase here is "you may attribute to them."


This to me is a big key. And it is difficult to be on the receiving end of this....it is also difficult at time for me NOT to be on the attributing end. Because when someone is acting exactly the way I would act were I defensive, I tend to assume they must be defensive.

It hit me that a key to tackling this is in some way similar to the "magic" of getting the love language thing right. I don't love someone else according to MY love language; I love someone else according to THEIR love language.

So if I am going to try to evaluate what someone else is feeling, I don't need to base it on how I would act if I was feeling it, but rather on how they consistently act when THEY are feeling it.

Of course, ideally I wouldn't try to evaluate at all....but baby steps.

I am finding more and more that a lot of conflict in any relationship boils down to me making a judgement about someone else's feelings or motives and me being arrogant enough to presume I couldn't possibly be wrong.

Ouchie

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: herfuturesbright] #355798
07/13/14 01:58 PM
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Quote:
I am finding more and more that a lot of conflict in any relationship boils down to me making a judgement about someone else's feelings or motives and me being arrogant enough to presume I couldn't possibly be wrong.


Yeesh, this describes one behavior I am working hard to change...attributing feelings and motives. Been called on this in MC several times.


On particularly rough days when I think I can no longer endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%, and that's pretty good.
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: herfuturesbright] #355807
07/13/14 03:43 PM
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You are spot-on with this. I like the analogy to love languages and hadn't thought of it that way before, but it fits nicely. A person's love language is theirs, may be very different from mine, and is neither right nor wrong, but simply is. Likewise with feelings. As with love languages, it may be difficult for someone to identify their feelings in the first place. I found found tracking is so valuable in that. Indeed, among those who have studied this particular form of communication, someone may request to be tracked so as to get clarity.

I have found with practice that I have more ability to be accurate in identifying what is being expressed. I am still learning of course, and am nowhere neare where I want to be. It's kinds like my violins playing, where I know how I want it to sound bout often don't have the skill to do so. Fortunately, marriage has this way of always presenting opportunities to practice!


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #355993
07/14/14 04:36 PM
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There are two sides to the "defensiveness" topic - one is how to respond to someone who reacts defensively and the other is focused on alternatives to defensiveness. Both are useful.

What I hope has been established is that defensiveness is a reaction to a reaction - that is, prior to the "defensive" statement, the person felt criticized. So the first change I would suggest to those who experience defensiveness is to examine the role that you play. In other words, what do you typically say just prior to hearing a defensive statement? Chances are it is one of the other "horsemen" (criticism or contempt). On the other hand, you may be 100% clear that there was none in what you stated - in other words, the criticism was 100% in the mind of the other person.

If there is still interest in this, I'd like to hear some examples you have experienced.


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #356097
07/14/14 11:35 PM
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Well, I will jump in on this one. I'm not sure if this is an example of this or not so perhaps you can tell me. This happened several months ago and a similar incident hasn't happened since. Before this incident it would happen 3 times a year or so. Here is what was typical.

My husband would suddenly decide that he wanted something deep cleaned. ( Everything taken out of a closet, entire room deep cleaned by moving furniture and vacuuming under it, etc.) I will react defensively and say something like the kids and I just organized this room a couple of weeks ago or something else that makes him mad and then he will say I'm sorry I made a suggestion in a sarcastic voice. Then I would cry and apologize and he would apologize..

So in this last incident we were getting to go out the door somewhere and he said, "When we get back let's really clean this living room and vacuum out the couch and move the furniture. Is that ok with you?" I didn't know how to respond. The children and I had deep cleaned the living room the week before: organizing bookshelves, dusting, cleaning out homeschool stuff. But to be honest we had not vacuumed the pockets behind the couch where things get trapped or moved the furniture..he says stuff like this it makes me feel like what I did wasn't good enough. I apparrantly made a defensive statement in a tone of voice about us already cleaning stuff out, which made him mad. He said, "I'm really trying not to get mad but your tone is upsetting me. What is wrong?" I left the room to cry. He followed me and hugged me and said, "I don't understand. I even asked you if it was ok. I don't understand what I am doing wrong." I told him the part about feeling like he was saying I wasn't good enough. He said nothing could be farther from the truth that he only wanted to help me. He doesn't expect me to have time to deep clean like that and he doesn't mind doing that. I guess in my mind he works hard enough at his job. I should do mine well enough that he doesn't have to do my job as well. We hugged and were ok.

I realized later that there were two other things that made me get defensive. One is that I didn't want to clean that day. I wanted to have fun...doing what, I don't know. But deep cleaning was not on my agenda. But I didn't have a good reason not to. It needed to be done. We fished so much crumbs, pens and other food out of the couch as well as underneath it. Disgusting. It needed to be done. If this situation ever happens again I will probably tell him that one.

I won't tell him the next one. The other thing is my fear that he might find something: a piece of paper where I wrote down my deepest feelings or a book that I'm not sure he would approve of or would make him think am I such a failure she is reading this?

So that is why I am defensive in that situation. He was able to help by asking me why I was defensive and really wanted to know. He has been trying so hard to not hurt my feelings.

So Fiddler, is that an example?

Last edited by Marta; 07/14/14 11:36 PM.
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Marta] #356100
07/14/14 11:39 PM
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Marta, you just described parts of my growing up and parts of my marriage....almost word for word!

This used to happen sometimes with J. If he wanted to "redo" something I had already done, it would make me feel so bad.

I eventually started saying something like, "That would be good, and since the kids and I already got a good start on it by doing x, y, and z, it probably won't take too long." Now, I know that is not super perfect, because part of the reason I said that is because I needed him to know I had done some things. But at least I got to say I had done something without it resulting in him getting mad or pointing out how I felt short. And if I didn't want to do it to the point that I felt sick (which frequently happened when he "sprung" sprung a big housecleaning thing on me), I would say it was a great idea, but could we possibly do it tomorrow/x day.

BTW, neither of the above things ALWAYS worked, but they worked enough to help.

Last edited by herfuturesbright; 07/14/14 11:42 PM.
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Marta] #356136
07/15/14 06:42 AM
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Marta, this is a good example of how to deal with defensiveness effectively - imo your husband did so by having a lot of empathy and compassion, followed by effective communication in each of you sharing what was going on for you.

It illustrates a larger point, that each of you had a totally different take - he was trying to help and you to it to mean that you weren't good enough.

The minefield is your thoughts about finding your journal or a book that you judge he won't "approve." These secrets you will be defending at some level, and so when a situation arises in which there is fear of being "found out," you will inevitably act defensively again.

The key, in my opinion, starts with a twofold acceptance. First, of yourself - your innermost feelings and the books you enjoy or find useful. The second is of him - his right to his own thoughts and opinions about which books are "acceptable."


"Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me."
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Fiddler] #356141
07/15/14 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted By: Fiddler
These secrets you will be defending at some level, and so when a situation arises in which there is fear of being "found out," you will inevitably act defensively again.



Yep, I think this is the only time we have ever gotten in "fights." I actually made him cry once. He was going through some papers on my dining table looking for a missing receipt and I REALLY snapped at him because that was when I was writing that letter (if you remember my deleted thread from the carport) about how unhappy I was and it was on the table. Scared me to death.. He just got so upset. The next day he left crying. He told me he would never read my personal stuff and I just didn't understand how much he loved me and it just bothered him so much. It is one of 4 times I have seen him cry: once when our cat died ( that he had given me 15 years before to keep me company), his beloved dog that died after 14 years, and when our son was leaving for college.

I have absolutely no idea how to be ok with him thinking badly of me. I have no idea about how to be ok with him being upset with me. Just don't have a clue. I can objectively realize that things are not my fault. But I don't know how to make me FEEL ok with that... I would only be ok with unconditional acceptance.

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Marta] #356160
07/15/14 01:38 PM
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Why should you feel OK when he is upset? How about giving yourself permission to feel bad when he is upset with you? How about accepting that no person or marriage is perfect? There will be times when he is upset with you. And when that happens, you will feel bad. THAT is what is OK. It isn't the end of the world for him to be upset with you, or for you to feel bad. Trying to prevent it from ever occurring will drive both of you nuts. You will end up frustrated and resentful, and worst of all, it won't work. Despite all your effort and frustration and resentment, there will still be times when he gets upset. So save yourself the time and energy of trying to make everything perfect. For him or for you. And give yourself (and him) permission to be human.

Only God grants unconditional acceptance. Expecting that of yourself or your husband is setting both of you up for failure. Try expecting conflict to occur. You'll be far less disappointed when it happens. Not easy to change one's frame of reference. But I have confidence you can. Good luck.


Solutions? There are none. There are decisions.
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Marta] #356161
07/15/14 01:38 PM
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Quote:
I have absolutely no idea how to be ok with him thinking badly of me. I have no idea about how to be ok with him being upset with me. Just don't have a clue. I can objectively realize that things are not my fault. But I don't know how to make me FEEL ok with that... I would only be ok with unconditional acceptance.


Marta, I want to give you a cyber hug right now because I KNOW how this feels. Moving away from this was the hardest thing I have ever done. It is horrible at first to realize there is nothing you can do to make unconditional acceptance happen and still live in peace. But it can be done. I was kind of forced to learn it.

Remember, the One who loves you more than anyone else ever could DOES accept you that way.

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: herfuturesbright] #356173
07/15/14 02:22 PM
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I just went through this last night. I had to make a choice. I could honor myself and my boundaries and make my husband unhappy or I could throw my boundary away and do what my husband wanted.

I honored myself. My husband got unhappy. Nothing horrible happened. He's okay today. I'm okay today. It's all good in the neighborhood. No resentment is simmering, no hatred is brewing, no one was smothered in their sleep with a pillow.

As a matter of fact, I was awakened early enough that I could linger this morning. Hugs were had, and someone got a nice cup of coffee left on his bedside table.

eta: DAMN I am really SUPER proud of my progress.

eta (again): I didn't post this as a brag, it was more like after I posted this, I was dumbstruck at how far I've come. It is SO different from how I used to think. It's so different from the patterns that drove me here. And that's not to say there wasn't a panicky moment last night, where I thought "oh god, I should DO something... And then another panicky moment where I thought I should SAY something, take the discussion further, basically turn the thing into an argument. Both those things were my anxiety talking, not my values. I felt my feelings, and let them go. I told myself my husband was entitled to feel however he felt in the moment as well. Because that's not mine to own. I let that go, I dropped that rope. and I moved on.

Last edited by Miranda; 07/15/14 03:19 PM.

When we open to this moment and don't judge it or try to change it, even when we're suffering and wish it were otherwise, we tap into the spaciousness of mind that allows us to move forward skillfully, with discernment and joy. -- Sharon Salzberg
Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Miranda] #356187
07/15/14 03:28 PM
07/15/14 03:28 PM
Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 1,869
Marta Offline
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Marta  Offline
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Joined: Dec 2012
Posts: 1,869
Yeah Miranda!!!!!

I did do something similar a couple of weeks ago. I had just started my job. I was in the middle of rehearsal. My husband and son had gone away to a conference. He calls me 3 times during my rehearsal. ( I had it on vibrate.) I finally answered and told him I was in the middle of rehearsal, could I call him back when he was through. I could tell he was annoyed, but he said ok. I finished my rehearsal and then called him on the way home. Turns out that somehow the instructions about what they needed to meet the senator got left at home. I had it in the folder that I made for him, but somehow it was forgotten on the table when we had been discussing it. By the time I called him he was absolutely fine because he had gone into our e-mail and found the email with the instructions.

It wasn't my fault. He could have checked beforehand and he was a big boy and figured it out. My heart just sinks when he is annoyed but I lived with it and finished what I needed to do. My therapist and I talked about this and then I talked with my husband about the fact that I will not always be available to do things he wants me to do the instant he wants me to do it, just like he isn't available for me at all times. He seemed to understand that. We'll see when another situation comes up.

I still don't like it, but I can live with it.

Re: How To "Track" A Defensive Spouse [Re: Marta] #356188
07/15/14 03:30 PM
07/15/14 03:30 PM
Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 13,383
midwest
Miranda Offline
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Miranda  Offline
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Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 13,383
midwest
highfive thumbsup

YES!! These are the types of steps I've been wanting to make and trying to make too Marta. And they are HARD to do.

Good job!


When we open to this moment and don't judge it or try to change it, even when we're suffering and wish it were otherwise, we tap into the spaciousness of mind that allows us to move forward skillfully, with discernment and joy. -- Sharon Salzberg
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