(RE)ENGAGING YOUR PARTNER CONSTRUCTIVELY

When Maria first confronted George about his affair, she accused him of humiliating her and ruining her life. George got defensive, lied about the affair, and told Maria that she was crazy. A similar pattern occurred with Hannah and Ethan, when she accused him of sexting with Stephanie. Again, he said it wasn’t a big deal—that she was taking the conversation out of context—it was just the way he and Stephanie liked to joke around (when, in fact, he had strong feelings for Stephanie). He also accused Hannah of snooping on him and said he was shocked that she didn’t love him enough to trust him. Ethan actually said he felt betrayed by her actions and accusations.

Another way your partner might become defensive is by turning the conversation back to you and your behavior or dredging up mistakes you’ve made in the past. Or they may try to bring up your role in events that led to the betrayal (for example, “I did what I did because of what you did years ago.”). If this happens, don’t take the bait. Try to steer the conversation back to what you’re feeling and the transgression at hand. Other issues can be addressed later, but right now it’s important to focus on the current problem and to try to get your partner to acknowledge how you’re feeling about being betrayed.

Again, take a break if you have to, but when you resume, be sure to focus on your emotions before addressing other issues. The issues can wait until you’ve established a cooperative pattern of interaction—one where your partner listens to your point of view. If he or she constantly refuses to listen to you, the problem isn’t likely to be resolved, and tough decisions, like ending the relationship, should be considered.

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