Ann and Jeff were sitting down for dinner when Jeff took a call from his father. His father was dealing with an urgent situation and Jeff wanted to be responsive. Ann was peeved at him for taking the call and a fight arose during dinner. In fact, bad feelings lasted several days.
Rather than explaining the urgency of the call, Jeff defended his taking the call. Consequently Ann didn’t feel heard.
In our couples counseling session, Ann talked about the importance of having dinner together. Jeff explained what was going on with his father, and said that he could have let her know before dinner. Then they could have decided together whether it was acceptable to take the call during dinner.
Jeff typically feels at fault when Ann gets angry and routinely defends himself. He now realized he could have inquired what she was upset about. In this way, he could be responsive, e.g., “I could have checked in with you before taking the call.” versus defending the reason for taking the call. His perception that he was at fault again got in the way of being responsive to her feelings.