Attack is not the best form of defense

Published on September 28, 2021

Melinda braced herself as her husband Michael walked across the room.  He had a look of dissatisfaction on his face that made her alarm bells go off.  Before he had a chance to say anything to her, she attacked him verbally.  She insulted him, using his insecurities against him to protect herself.  She thought attack is the best form of defense, hurt before you are hurt.

Michael, her husband, attacked back.  Both were now trying to hurt the other to regain control.  The blaming language was a way for them to protect themselves from vulnerability.  Both feared rejection and abandonment and thought the best thing was to reject the other person first. The conflict damaged the relationship as neither partner trusted the other partner not to hurt them.  Both felt guarded.

Conflict is an opportunity to repair problems in your relationship.  As hard as it is to hear that your partner might be dissatisfied, listening can bring you closer and increase intimacy.  Here are some pointers to help you resolve and repair instead of damage your relationship during the conflict.

1) Listen without judging. When people are hurt or angry, they tend to only focus on the negative aspects of their partner.  Remember that your partner has other traits that led you to fall in love with them.  If you were to listen and observe what your partner is saying instead of judging, their comments might hurt less.

2) Let it land. According to John Gottman, letting your partners criticisms land without becoming defensive helps couples to repair. Listen to your body and if you are feeling overwhelmed, ask your partner for a moment to breathe.  Reflect on your feelings and ask yourself what insecurity is being opened.  Space is ok to calm down, but the cold shoulder is punitive and a form of emotional abuse.

3) Respond and don’t react. Attacking language or feeling on the defense can send you into fight or flight.  Once you are in fight, it is hard to come out of it.  How can you respond as a calm adult instead of lashing out?  What do you need to say to yourself?  If you feel attacked by your partner, a simple thing to say is, “That was hurtful.”  Non-violent communication is a way to focus on needs instead of criticism.  What does your partner need? What do you need? How can you put your needs forward in a way that can be heard?

4) Constructive versus destructive criticism. Constructive criticism aims to help the other person succeed.  Destructive criticism seeks to devalue the other person for control.  Constructive criticism uses a gentle start-up versus destructive criticism, which involves a harsh start-up.  If your partner uses destructive criticism against you, understand that it is more about them than you.  Either they feel insecure and put it on you or feel a need for control.  Let destructive criticism go over your head so that it does not damage your self-worth. Avoid destructive criticism in your language with each other.


If you feel like you need to talk to someone, then please do contact me to set up an online session via email

Category(s):Couple Counseling, Marital Counseling, Relationships & Marriage, Stress Management

Written by:

Dr Monica Borschel

Registered Clinical Psychologist (HK)

Dr. Borschel specializes in Attachment, trauma and Loss. She is experienced in helping adults, teens, children, and families adjust to anxiety, trauma, abuse, divorce, separation, loss of a loved one, and loss of finance. This may include deciding what is in the best interest of the children during custody disputes, strengthening the relationship and communication between the parents and the children.

From Nov 2020 Dr. Borschel is only available for online consultations.

Dr. Borschel’s attachment-based therapy along with EMDR and Brainspotting enables her clients to find healing within themselves. In so doing, she can help her clients to overcome anxiety, trauma, neglect, emotional, verbal, physical abuse, and child abuse.

Furthermore, as an attachment specialist, she also helps individuals understand relationship patterns which prevent them from developing or maintaining healthy relationships. She is able to help reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression and promote confidence and self-esteem.

Dr. Borschel is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. She graduated with her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University in New York City. She later moved to Hong Kong to pursue her doctorate at the University of Hong Kong in Social Work and Social Administration.

Registered Clinical Psychologist with The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology (HKSCP). Member of the American Psychological Association (APA), The British Psychological Society (BPS), and the Hong Kong Family Law Association (HKFLA).

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