Overcoming Defensiveness In A Relationship

A lot of people come to me complaining that their significant other is too defensive. Being defensive is some people’s knee jerk response to any criticism, even if it’s constructive. We are wired to protect ourselves so we can all get defensive sometimes. People become defensive when they want to avoid experiencing uncomfortable feelings pertaining to themselves. 


When someone gets defensive, this allows them to block the feelings temporarily that they don’t want to feel. They take any feedback that is not positive as a direct correlation to their self esteem and twist the comment as a personal attack on them that they’re no good and become triggered.
Becoming defensive is not only unproductive for you but it also essentially sends a message to your partner that you don’t want to hear what they have to say unless it’s something you want to hear. 
This will directly affect your partners ability to be open and honest with you and communication will dwindle. Not communicating regularly is quite dangerous.


We don’t choose defensiveness at a conscious level. We choose defensiveness as a way to cope when we’re young to help us deal with stress where we had very little control. If you parents punished you or shamed you, you form a layer of self protection when you feel anger or frustration being pointed towards you. 


Don’t take everything your partner says as a personal attack. Criticism helps us learn and grow. Because I tell you something you did hurt feelings or I wish you would do more of XYZ, this is not me saying “I think you’re a terrible person, you’re not good enough and you’re unworthy of my love” but people with certain childhood history and with lower self esteem will twist your words and convince themselves that this is certainly what you meant.


Letting yourself feel those uncomfortable feelings will cause you to not get defensive. Be more aware of when you’re starting to get defensive and catch yourself. Practice resilience in order to take criticism better. You also want to take responsibility for your words and actions. When you’re more kind to yourself and engaging in more positive self talk, this will make your ability to handle uncomfortable feelings much better. 


You can say whatever you want to say to someone, it depends on your delivery and how you say it. 
Words are extremely powerful. 


Sometimes how we say something and how someone else interprets it can be very different. Tonality and word choice will be the difference between your partner receiving what you have to say and your partner potentially getting defensive and shutting down. 


You always wan to ask yourself before saying something to your partner, “am I being a dick about this?” Pick and choose your battles and be sure to share what you have o say constructively and kindly. Sharing something with aggression or anger won’t make your point more clear or appear more important. 

For example: Let’s say you want your partner to clean the house more. Notice the difference between the two approaches. 

Approach A: “This place is disgusting. We pay too much for our mortgage every month to live like this. We have spoken about the before and you continue to be a slob. Keep this place cleaner!” 

Approach B: “Hey, I know you’ve been crazy busy lately and it not easy to keep up with the cleaning but I would appreciate it if we could come up with a schedule together for who is responsible for what so we can stay on top of things. Sound good?” 

You’re saying the same thing thing, that you want your partner to be more clean but both approaches are starkly different, which will elicit a very different response. Approach A is more aggressive, approach B is calm and collaborative. 

You want to put yourself in your partners shoes and think about how you would best hear suggestions or constructive feedback. It’s not easy to hear something that isn’t positive, especially form our partners so be sure to think about your delivery ahead of time, particularly knowing your partner and how he or she best interprets what you have to say. 

Ask your partner for feedback in terms of how they would like to be approached when speaking about feedback, constructive feedback or sharing feelings. This way you aren’t guessing or triggering your partner without even knowing it. 

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