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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I communicate without feeling defensive?

    Related Topic
    My bf says his kids don't feel comfortable living with us, because i get cranky and storm around when I get home from work and the 19 year old hasn't done anything to help out around the house. He does wash the dishes often and has done a couple of jobs but I don't feel he is pulling his weight and my bf thanks I am unreasonable. We had a job list at one stage but that seemed to cause more problems when jobs weren't being done. Not sure how to improve the situation as every time I get frustrated and he asks what is wrong, he doesn't like the answer and I cant cope.
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    Dr Toni Metelerkamp

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Toni works with adults and couples, and specialises in diagnosing and treating anxiety (panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance and gambling, addictions, suicide and … View Profile

    I can hear the frustration about feeling overworked and being taken for granted, as well as the concern he’s probably feeling about the conflict that arises from these feelings.
    Often the most important thing is to make sure that both you and he agree on the essential chores that need to be done around the house on a weekly/fortnightly/monthly basis. This sounds simple, but people seldom agree entirely on what is essential, and you do need to agree on what the minimum chores are and how long each chore should take. This may require compromise, especially if one of you wants more done than the other. Remember the task is to agree on what is essential. You might be surprised at how much there is on an “essentials” list.
    Then it’s time for a family meeting. If you can, make it a family meeting with a difference. Have a treat on the table. Some families have cake and coffee/tea/soft drink; others serve fruit or a favorite meal. Have the list on the table and as a group divide it evenly between you. Go around the table and let each person take one thing off the list at a time. Start with the children. Be sure that everyone has chores that roughly add to the same amount of time. Let family members trade; try to be light hearted about it.
    Once everyone has their chores, they know how often the chores need doing and how long each chore should take, then decide what happens if the chore is not done. Each person needs to come up the strategy for what happens if they don’t do their particular chore. Everyone contributes to the planning and the solutions. Children who earn money can offer to pay someone else, but the amount must be equivalent to what it would cost to have someone outside the family do the work.   If, for example, the 19 year old initially agrees to wash the car within a certain timeframe, but doesn’t, they will need to pay to have it washed at a car wash. Younger children can only “pay” with access to TV, mobiles, lifts to friends, or whatever matters to them, but remember the “price” needs to adequately reflect the effort it takes someone else to do the chore.
    It can help to have a monthly dinner/family meeting to swap chores or just thank everyone for doing their bit. The key is to make everyone contribute to the smooth running of the home and for problem solving when that doesn't happen.
    I wish you luck. 


  • My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    A skill which my clinical psychologist has taught me (which I am still learning) is called “speaking in the I”.

    Roughly, it is basis of communication in a relationship with healthy (compared to rigid or enmeshed (aka co-dependent) boundaries. It entails expressing my thoughts and feelings without making judgements or assumptions about the thoughts or feelings of the other person.

    It is explained fairly well here: .

  • Alan Sharland

    HealthShare Member

    Thanks for recommending that page Simon - it's on my website! There's another page that takes the use of 'I-statements' further on the same website at this link as well:

  • I am a Melbourne Relationship Counsellor and Family Lawyer who is skilful in helping people get out of the pain of relationship distress and create … View Profile

    In order to communicate without feeling defensive I recommend that you practice listening to yourself and the story in your head (which is often just a story and not that helpful) and see if you can work out what you are feeling.

    Then after a pause and a breath see if you can state calmly and clearly: “I feel….taken for granted” or whatever is relevant at the time. Then request clearly what you need. Make your requests reasonable. Be respectful.

    You will find you have far more influence if you practice first having a thought about how you might be received when you communicate.

    Take a few steps back, relax and then imagine your best result for the situation.

    Also, if you are getting defensive then stop and come back when you are calmer and more open to a better conversation.

    Good Luck

  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    So many helpful suggestions already given here by others! I would just add one thing - it probably is less important that you don't FEEL defensive, and more important that you RESPOND non-defensively. This is just about what we perhaps all strive to do more generally - to be responsive rather than reactive in what we say and do. Trying to change how we feel is usually ineffective, and perhaps not the best place to focus our efforts. Changing what we do is more likely to bring about a more effective result, which then in turn will change how we feel about that person or situation moving forward. Toni, Simon and Maggie have each given suggestions about skills you may use to respond rather than react - these are all great strategies and I encourage you to use them. If you would like to enlarge your repertoire of these skills, I recommend you see a relationship counsellor who can coach you in a range of techniques that are proven to be useful in a range of interpersonal situations.

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