Defensiveness is anything we use to move away from responsibility for something that our spouse believes that we have done or not done. Defensiveness like it implies, means that we perceive what our spouse is saying about or to us as an attack. In response (whether it was done in a respectful way or in a way that was truly an attack) we employ defensiveness to keep from receiving responsibility.
Defensiveness can come in many forms. Stating clearly that you did not do something and listing the reasons may be defensive. Counter accusing your spouse with something that they did not do as well is defensive. A spouse might say, “I noticed that the grass is not mowed and is really getting tall. Would you mind mowing the grass today or tomorrow?” And the defensive response might be, “I would have mowed the grass sooner but you said you would start putting your shoelaces in the closet instead of leaving them all over the house.”
Defensiveness usually moves you away from an issue resolving conversation. This is because defensiveness keeps the issue from being resolved, it contributes to its reoccurrence which leads to a negative pattern of interactions. Defensiveness is a Marriage Killer because it contributes to the end of communication and the beginning of the end of the relationship.
What Can I Do About Defensiveness?
If you are the victim of defensiveness, you may be bringing the problem to your spouse in a way that they perceive as an attack on who they are as a person. It is important to bring the issue in a way that they will receive it.
Sometimes the reason for the defensive posture of your spouse may be the way the issue was brought up. If you can find a time and place that works best for the two of you to have the conversation, you will probably find a more open conversation that focuses on true resolution of the issue.
The most important thing you can do is to use language that does not encourage defensiveness. The Compliant Formula is an excellent tool to bring up an issue that will probably not deploy the defensiveness of your spouse. Using your Speaking and Hearing Truth skills will also help you have the issue resolving conversation you are hoping to have.
If you are an active user of defensiveness, you are hurting your marriage. You may believe you are protecting yourself or even protecting your spouse, but using defensiveness over time takes an incredible toll on the relationship. When you are defensive, the issue is not resolved which results in you having the accusation brought back up again at a later time, inflicting more pain.
One of the first things you can do to limit your use of defensiveness is to watch the type of language you use that gets in the way of really hearing and respecting what you spouse is saying about the issue they are bringing up. Frequently, people who use defensiveness hear themselves say the following phrases:
“Yes, but…” “What about when you…”
“No, that’s not 100% true…” “I don’t think so…”
“At least I’m not…” “I won’t accept that…”
“You are one to be talking…” “That is ridiculous…”
“You are blowing this way out of proportion…”
When you hear yourself using such phrases, you are likely using defensiveness to side step responsibility for the issue being raised. Instead, consider some of these phrases:
“I can see how you would feel that way…”
“The part I agree with is…”
“It makes sense that you might think that…”
“I want to give that some more thought…”
“It really isn’t what I meant but I can see how you take it that way…”
“I am listening. Tell me more about …”
“I agree with part of what you are saying…”
The most important thing you can do is to stay in the conversation and ask yourself, “In what way can I take responsibility for my part in this issue?” Finding even one aspect that you can take responsibility for in the issue being raised provides your spouse with part of an answer to his or her request. It also provides you with power to choose a different outcome the next time you are faced with a similar decision. Accepting responsibility for your part in the issue does not mean it is all your fault. However, it does mean that you are on your way to resolving the issue.
If you find yourself wanting to bring up a counter accusation, do everything you can to prevent this. Do not bring it up in the conversation. If you need to write it down to discuss at a later time with your spouse, do that as soon as you can. Trying to have a conversation about multiple issues at the same time is rarely productive. Put it in the “to discuss list”, not in the conversation, and revisit it at a later date.
This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at www.LifeTogetherForever.com © Roy and Devra Wooten 2014. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at Secret@LifeTogetherForever.com.