Moratorium on Criticism and Defensiveness with Your Spouse? (Leap over ‘De Fence’ into Love)

  • I am hurt by ________ because he is so disgusted with me.
  • I want him to stop yelling at me. Stop talking so derogatorily to me. Stop making me feel so worthless. Stop making me feel like all I am is a bother to him.
  • He should understand that I am not doing this to annoy him. He should see that I am just asking for information.
  • I need him to see I am just being me and it has nothing to do with him. He should speak nicely to me.
  • Most of all… I need him to cherish me.
  • He is being a jerk, he is being unreasonable, irrational, bewildering to me, denying it, blind to what he’s doing, reacting from a deep place inside him, not acting out of what he really feels.
  • I don’t ever want to be treated like that by anyone again.

DO you ever feel this misunderstood around a spouse, boss, friend, or family members? The intense compulsion to defend starts when we are little, when we come to believe that our survival depends on the way a parent or other grownup sees us.That is why we can go into instant defensiveness and even rage when others don’t see us the way we want to be seen.That little one is still tenacious about projecting the identity we felt could save us.

After some amazing shifts the client who felt this way had in our session, I wrote some insights to her in one of the follow-up emails that are part of our coaching relationship. Over the past month, I had to plunge deep into what remains of my own need to defend to experience a critical shift that I shared with her.

“Feel free to bookend with me about whether you took the action you were inspired to take after our session. It was amazing to watch you switch from feeling SO angry and devalued by him to saying you wanted to go and tenderly apologize.

“I’m sorry for the ways I’ve hurt you and made you feel less than.  Diminished you as a person.”

What a turn-around. Those were your words once you had seen that it wasn’t personal, and that you were doing the same to him and to yourself as he was doing to you. It was such an incredible shift into warmth and compassion. I know your intention is to stay with it and shift these long-term patterns, so let’s check in soon about what happened.


Just before teaching my MM group our module on DEFENSIVENESS, I came up against my own ‘edge’ this past month; plunged into feeling little and clueless and heartbroken and defensive like I haven’t in years around the accusations and actions of a party very dear to me.  After going in and out of an intense need to defend or attack back, I felt so much more free when I suddenly ‘got it’ that I’m not responsible for changing the way others see me.  It confirmed what I had been observing this past month:

What causes our intense emotional suffering when we want to defend is not anything “they” are doing. It is always our misguided belief that what’s happening should be different than it is. It is our belief that our happiness is tied to how THEY see us.  My own obsessive composing of fruitless defense/counter responses–having such loving that I can change their minds if only I ‘do it right’–tears me in half. The sense of hopelessness created by the illusion that we can ‘get them’ to see what they are doing to us (and the fear that our defense or offense will likely make things worse) is what actually creates that ‘kicked in the stomach’ feeling and paralyzes us as we spin options around and around in our minds.

I experienced relief an eye-opening shift when I asked myself, “What if I could not defend (try to convince them of my rightness) or attack back (try to convince them of their wrongness) for a full year? What would I be doing with my time now, instead of obsessing about how to ‘fix’ this?”   

What if you did the same with your husband? What if, for a whole year (or even a month; even a day; even 10 minutes) you gave yourself (and him) a moratorium on commenting, criticizing, or in any way engaging in the business of getting him to change?

You found that ‘without that thought’ you would be present with the ‘as-is’ husband that shows up (rather than the husband of your imagination–the one we think we are responsible to create by convincing them of our innocence).

What if our only job is to keep our hearts open and convince OURSELVES of our own innocence and be our own best advocate–and theirs?

What that might look like after a stressful interaction with your husband or boss is to get to a quiet place (even lie down if possible) and feel the feelings in your body.  Let them have their life without words.  Let them get big. Consider them to be the little girl part of you, and just be with them as they are, hold them, be curious what they need, and esp. ask them what they want.  Find the place in you that shifts into believing there is something wrong with you he minute someone else looks sideways at you–and your programming drives you to change their minds with shame, blame, or logic before you can get proof that you’re OK.

When you take care of that little part of you so perfectly–just by feeling the feelings of confusion, disappointment, and betrayal you felt when you were young, you let them move on. You also begin to trust all that is bigger than you (life). You can even trust that your painful reactions to the other are coming your way solely as a way to evolve you back to yourself.

It’s All RIGHT Here

I saw, over and over again with each heartbreaking challenge, that we can give ourselves the connection to our critics and ourselves that we crave, since we are the ones that took it away. Ask yourself what you want that does not require the other needing to change one bit; it just requires keeping our hearts open; loving them and myself the way I want to be loved from here.

There is a huge relaxing into the safety of reality and a sweet restoration of freedom and hope when we gain faith that we are perfectly cared for by the symmetry inherent in these painful events.

It is possible to love those who are being critical of you exactly where they are whether they change or not–that is what makes us feel good.  The other route–making them change first–is a bottomless pit of trying to ‘get it perfect.’

We obsessively craft our convincing responses in our minds or on paper at 3 am, while at the same time censoring every word as we second-guess that it won’t be received the way we had hoped. Nothing is more paralyzing than believing that if we do try to stand in our own defense, we must say JUST the right thing, or we will have “only ourselves to blame” for making things worse.

By accepting that your husband IS believing what he is believing about you in that moment, you become free. You see that it’s an ”event” happening over there in him, and not your responsibility to change it; unless he comes to your with curiosity about your perspective. Every time I recognized all that, I felt a lightness return.

When we go back into the obsessive wish to defend, we are carrying something that is not ours: the responsibility of changing others’ minds about us.


This archaic compulsion to defend is something I believe we all learned at a very young age, as we interpreted the moods and actions of a caretaker. As children, we read their affect and decided we were at fault, and that it was up to us to  ‘fix it’ in order to be cared for.

But the intent to defend is an isolating “no-win” place. Once we let go of the job of fixing ‘the offender,’ we can start to see how busy they are trying to fix us from the same helpless place, and have compassion for that painful position.

Once I released myself from convincing others of my OKness, I was able to focus on what I needed to do to take care of my own side of the street. I was able to sleep again; to warmly hold them in my heart. Just as they are, whether or not they are asking to hear my side. (And then, when I we are ready–sometimes almost instantly after the shift to peace–life ups the ante and comes at us with something that takes us down to the NEXT level of evolution–back to ourselves. That is always what we are being shown when we leave ourselves just because someone else disapproves and go hang out in their business).


It also frees us to look into whether or not what they are saying is true. Where is there a shred of truth i what they are saying?  How are you already hard on YOU for the very thing they are reacting to, which is why it is so hard to hear?   

As we discussed, the only way your husband or others have the power to push that button is if it’s a button that was already there! (That is why the wish to defend or justify… we already suspect we are falling short in some way. So when we open to the fact that they are just shining a light on that shame, we can go in and clean it up, then the whole painful event becomes a great gift!)


When you give yourself that blessed time off from being his constant critic, you may realize that the stress does not come from anything he is saying or doing but from two very little-kid survival driven beliefs:

1) that he should be saying or doing something else and if only he were, it would take care of all you need, 

2) that it is your job to GET HIM to take care of you in all the perfect ways you need (that it is all up to you to help him see the error of his ways, to let him see all the pain he is causing you, to convince him of the rightness of your position.)  

If you do all that for yourself, let yourself be ‘good enough’ in your own eyes, affirm yourself for all your efforts, acknowledge how painful this entangled position has been for you.  Then set yourself free from the heavy (and impossible) responsibility of managing how he shows up in the world.

Notice how YOU want to show up in relation to him. What would feel really good to you in terms of keeping your heart open to his best efforts? What is the outcome you want that has NOTHING to do with him making amends for where he was at in that moment or showing up differently in the future?

When you saw that you didn’t need to take his behavior personally, you started to clearly SEE him over there, simply suffering under his own set of pre-programmed beliefs and the survival strategies–similar to yours– that were driving his ‘nasty’ behavior.


Just to recap–we talked about what I call ‘the spark of love’–the idea of him over there loving himself (the part of him that thinks he is threatened by you and needs to attack back) in the best way he knows how, or is loving you by thinking that his criticisms are helping.

Once you release yourself from the comparison (the movie you are playing in your mind of how husbands ‘should’ be) that is causing all your pain in any triggering event, you can put the focus back on your own actions and make clear–not reactive–choices you feel good about. Once you COMPLETELY drop the impossible task of managing how he treats you, you become totally responsible for the ways YOU treat yourself and him with disgust when you interpret his tone as disgust. What we see is always what we get.

The questioning of your own beliefs (mainly the one that it is up to you to do something to change him) can help the beliefs instantly fall away, and you will find you are opening your heart to the man in front of you.

1 thought on “Moratorium on Criticism and Defensiveness with Your Spouse? (Leap over ‘De Fence’ into Love)”

  1. Thanks for writing this..I LOVED it! It helps all of us face the critic we use both on ourselves and our beloveds..as well as face the “other” with more compassion and acceptance…And encourages us to turn back to ourselves..which is always where the problem is solved…Many Blessings, Kristina Rogers

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