by Danielle Palmer

Picture this: You’re upset with your husband/wife (again). You’re frustrated/hurt/annoyed and decide it’s time for a conversation. Maybe this conversation is long overdue, or maybe you’ve had it several times. You’re struggling on how to get the words out, because quite frankly, you’re over it. You wish you didn’t even have to have the conversation. You are most definitely not alone in this feeling. In fact, most of the couples I work with talk about this exact situation. The problem is, once we reach this level of frustration, we typically engage in battling our partner.

Humans are interesting creatures- selfish by nature. We try to work this out of our system when we’re young: parents try to teach their children to share, teachers assign group projects in school. Even with these valiant efforts, selfish tendencies make themselves present in our vulnerable states, like arguing with a partner. We often become hyperfocused on our individual needs: to get our point across, to defend our thoughts/feelings, that we forget to listen and approach the conversation with better intentions. It’s as if you walked into the conversation with a sword in one hand, a shield in the other, ready for battle.

The Sword

I want you to think of the sword as it is in this metaphor, a weapon. When using a sword in communication, the intention is to be right, to win, dominate, or blame. Often times, people do this without even realizing, or it doesn’t begin that way, but with emotions getting involved, that is the direction is goes. When talking to your partner, I want you to ask yourself, “Is my sword drawn?” Acknowledging your sword is drawn is one part, but the other is realizing the damage that may have been caused if you actually used it. If in that conversation, you used your weapon on your partner (maybe you brought up something from that past that didn’t add value to the conversation, made a snarky remark, or blamed them for your feelings/actions), it’s as if you figuratively swung your sword at them. This kind of battling can cause emotional damage in your relationship. These figurative jabs cause real pain and may lead to unhealthy defense mechanisms.

The Shield

One of these unhealthy defense mechanisms takes place as the shield. When using a shield in communication, the intention is to defend, deflect, and protect. Although it doesn’t sound as bad as the sword, the shield can also cause damage. When we are trying so hard to defend ourselves, we don’t hear our partner- we aren’t in the mindset of working together, we’re battling. I often see people initiate their conversation with a shield already drawn- they’re preparing for the battle before it even began…and whether you realize it or not, that shield is felt on the other side.  The person you’re talking to can feel your defenses rise and it sets the tone for the conversation (a.k.a battle).

Conversating v Battling

So, how do you have a tough conversation without using the sword and shield? I’ll be honest, if the weapons and defenses are your natural tendencies, putting them down will be challenging (not impossible). As cliché as it sounds, the first step is recognizing your usage of them. Begin analyzing your communication patterns. Are you someone who commonly grabs for their sword? Do you always have your shield up, unable to let someone in and hear them in return? Or, are you a combination of both? That awareness is crucial in working on your communication. Once you have an understanding of this, I want you to envision that battlefield. Imagine you’re in this field with weapons and shields all for your choosing. Sitting beside those options is a log- a small space for you and someone else to sit. That log is also an option… and what that option is, is a conversation, not a battle. That log is for two people to sit and talk about their feelings/thoughts/wants- whatever they need to discuss, free from the items used for battle. At that log, people feel heard, they communicate without blame, and they let their walls down by being vulnerable. When you are sitting on the log, it’s important to own your feelings (not blame your partner for them) and help them understand what it is that you want or don’t want. Every time you enter a conversation with someone, especially a difficult one, you have a choice to make: sword, shield, or log. Which one will you choose today?

If you would like to discuss these communication patterns and/or defense mechanisms, I’d be more than happy to work with you. It may also be helpful to spend some time discussing how to effectively remain “sitting on the log” when having a difficult conversation and what your natural tendencies seem to be. Feel free to schedule an appointment online if you would like to discuss more. You can book your appointment at or by calling 618.302.1466.