Romantic relationships consist of highs and lows. To make a relationship work, both partners need to put in the effort. In this process, arguments can happen. But there are some things to keep in mind while arguing.
One of the main things that can hamper a romantic relationship is defensiveness. Can becoming extremely defensive help you communicate with your partner? No. When you’re being defensive, it is hampering the quality of communication with your partner.
You can learn about how to stop being defensiveand communicate healthily with your partner! Effective communication is a very important part of a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
Understanding defensiveness and how it happens
Before delving into some strategies that you can implement to deal with defensiveness, first take a look at what it means.
If you really want to know how to stop being defensive, you should understand that defensiveness is not just behavior but also a feeling. It is how you feel and act if someone is criticizing you.
The situations where you get that “I feel attacked”feeling is probably when you start behaving defensively. It’s like your mind’s way of protecting you from any threat you may sense. For romantic relationships, the threat is referring to any criticism that you face from your partner.
So,defensiveness is like a reaction to any type of threat (criticism) that you may sense.
But becoming very defensive in relationships can hinder your connection with your partner. Because when a partner gets defensive, the argument turns into a war of sorts, with a winner and a loser.
This win or lose mindset in a relationship doesn’t work out now, does it?
It just jeopardizes the relationship and the love between you and your partner. But don’t worry, now that you know the what and why of defensiveness, you can overcome it!
The 6 primary behavioral climates that lead to defensiveness
You know about what is defensiveness and the basic cause of defensiveness. However, to effectively work on your defensive behavior, let’s get more specific.
Jack Gibb, a pioneer in the field of defensive communication, proposed 6 behavioral situations. These situations explain what causes defensive behavior.
In an intimate relationship, if your partner has an all-or-nothing mindset or a black and white mindset, it may cause you to behave in a defensive way. This mindset of extremities and the right/wrong way of thinking can make you feel like you’re being attacked.
2. Manipulating or controlling behavior
If you feel like your partner’s very controlling or somehow always managing to get their way, you may feel like it’s unfair. This might lead you to act defensively because let’s face it, nobody likes to be controlled or manipulated in a relationship.
Your mind may make you think and feel like you are in danger so you end up behaving in a defensive way.
This situation is one of the easiest ways to make someone behave defensively. A big reason why you may be acting all defensive is that your partner might be making you feel inferior to him/her/them.
Being around someone who brags about themselves a lot is tough. If you’re being made to feel like you’re not good enough, you may feel threatened and become defensive.
4. Withholding information/ secretive behavior
Communicating openly is essential for a healthy relationship. Now if you’ve been in situations where your partner has kept major secrets from you or not told you something that you needed to know, that could also lead you to fight defensively with your partner.
If you feel like you cannot trust your partner, it can lead you to experience a sense of threat.
5. Critical behavior
If you’re constantly under criticism from your partner about anything and everything you do, then you can feel sad, angry, anxious, etc. Not only this, but you may also have this urge to protect yourself from constant criticism. This in turn may lead to defensive behavior.
6. No accountability
If there is a habit of constantly shifting blame or not taking responsibility for things that have not gone according to plan, then that can easily lead to defensiveness in relationships. The constant lack of accountability can be very upsetting. This too can facilitate defensiveness.
All these situations which Gibb called behavioral climates are some of the most common instances when people get defensive. So now you can identify when and how you get defensive and be mindful about it!
When you have defensive personality traits, it can take you and your partner down this rabbit hole ofblaming each other. It is essential to understand how to stop being defensive, so that you can save your relationship.
If you’re being defensive, chances are that your partner also gets defensive as a reaction to your defensiveness. Then you both continue raising your defenses and the rest is history.
But hey, just because this may have happened in the past doesn’t mean that you can’t work on it in the present! There’s hope and there are some fantastic strategies when you think “why am I so defensive”! Use the following strategies for regulating your defensiveness:
1. Use “I” statements
Now this one is a classic. When you’re communicating with your partner, try to be mindful about the way you’re saying whatever it is that you want to say. This is great for dealing with defensive behavior in relationships.
Here’s an example for you. Instead of saying “All you do is scream at me”, say “I find it’s very tough for me to hear what you’re saying when you scream.”
When you use these sentences, it’s like the accusatory tone is gone! “I” statements allow you to say how you’re feeling and your opinion. This puts an end to the blame game because opinions are just opinions, there’s no right or wrong!
When it comes to defensive behavior, let’s avoid the trash talking and constant comparison to others. These practices may be the building blocks of an overly defensive personality. These strategies won’t help you grow.
When you begin embracing a mindset where you want to grow as a person, things change. It’s about how you want to use your energy. Do you want to use it for self-defense? Or do you want to use it for self-improvement?
To adopt this mindset, the intention behind the criticism that you may receive from your partner. Be on the same page with your partner about why they’re criticizing you? Neutral and constructive criticism intended to help you work on yourself instead of embarrassing or hurting you can help you grow!
3. Perceive criticism in a positive light
How you see and understand situations is how you will react to those situations. If you’re in a situation where you are being criticized by your partner, how do you see that criticism?
Take a step back. Think about the criticism. Is it because your partner wants to make you feel low? Is it because your partner wants you to be more aware of yourself? Does your partner believe in you enough to know that you can do better?
See, feedback is essential for actualizing your potential. When you were in college or school, remember how your professors or teachers would push you at times so that you could achieve something? This is similar to that.
There’s a high chance that your partner is criticizing you because they know you’re capable of doing much better.
4. Remember your core values
A lot of the time, defensiveness comes from a place of low self-esteem. If you’re not feeling good about yourself, you’re probably going to be more sensitive to feeling let down by criticism.
When you’re feeling defensive, try to remind yourself of your passions. Think about what you love doing. What you’re good at. What are your best qualities? In the context of your relationship, you can even think about what are the best parts of your relationship!
When you take out the time to acknowledge the good in yourself, the defensive tendency goes down.
5. Try to buy time for yourself in critical moments
This strategy is perfect for implementing those exact moments where you’re feeling very defensive. As per defensiveness psychology, this feeling is like a sudden desire or craving. You crave to defend yourself.
How to get over a craving? By buying some time. In the heat of the moment, you can use filler words while talking to your partner. Words like “Oh”, “Go on”, “Aah, I see” are some useful examples.
The other option you have is to stay silent for a few moments. Take that much-needed breather. Collect your thoughts. A little bit of awkward silence is okay! You are with your partner after all.
Now you know about the main solutions to tackle defensive behavior. This section will help you in overcoming defensiveness in a step-by-step manner.
1. Identify when you’re being defensive
Awareness is key to know how to stop being defensive. Try to remember what is defensiveness. Identify the situations where you get defensive with your partner. Identify what you say when you get defensive. When you identify these cues, you can stop and regulate yourself.
For your better understanding, here’s a video clip which shows what exactly being defensive in a relationship looks like
2. Pause for a moment and breathe
When you’re in the middle of an argument with your partner and identify a cue for defensiveness, just pause. Hold on for a second. Take a moment for yourself. Just breathe. Overcome that adrenaline rush to start a blame game.
A few deep breaths can help stop yourself from getting defensive. This is because defensive behavior has a mind-body connection. When your body perceives a threat, it goes into full-blown protection mode. Taking that breather can let your body understand that it isn’t under attack.
3. Don’t interrupt your partner
Interrupting your partner while he/she/they are still talking is rude. Think about how you’ve felt if and when your partner would keep on interrupting you when you spoke. Let your partner speak without interrupting. This is important for establishing a healthy communication network.
4. If you feel like you can’t listen at that moment, then let your partner know
A lot of the time, people get defensive out of fatigue. Think about the number of times when you’ve had a rough day at work or school and come back home and have an argument with your partner. To have a healthy, constructive conversation, both partners need to have enough energy.
If you’re feeling physically and/or mentally exhausted and your partner says something that can make you defensive, let your partner know that this is not a great time for the conversation.
Communicate that you get the importance of the topic. Let your partner know that you’re not in a state to talk about it at that moment. Fix a different time to have that conversation.
5. Request your partner for specifications
The thing about this pointer is that your intentions need to be genuine before you learn how to stop being defensive. Asking your partner for specific details about something they’re criticizing you for may be a good gesture. When you focus on the specifics of the situation, it seems less threatening.
This can be a grounding experience. It will also convey to your partner that you value their opinion.
6. Find points of agreement
The point of having constructive conversations where you express your curiosity about the criticism and then try to reach a middle ground is to reduce defensive communication in relationships. When you find points of agreement, it can feel reassuring to both you and your partner.
Whether it’s a general “I’m so sorry for my role in this situation” response or an apology for something particular that you did or said, apologies are important. When you genuinely apologize, it shows that you have integrity and are capable of taking responsibility for your role in an event.
8. Avoid using “but” statements
Sentences with “but” have this natural tendency to sound defensive. So, it’s best if you try to avoid using this word in your sentences when you’re having a conversation with your partner that has the potential to turn into an argument. The word “but” can convey a sense of negation or disregard for your partner’s point of view.
9. Counter-criticism is a big no-no
When you start voicing the issues you have regarding your partner’s behavior exactly when they’re trying to communicate about their grievances with you, it’s going to be a mess. Your grievances are valid. But there is an appropriate time and place for that to be voiced.
When you start criticizing your partner exactly when they’re talking about you, it’ll come off as a strategy to protect yourself.
10. Make your partner feel heard
There’s a high chance that it might be very difficult for your partner to voice their grievances about you. So, acknowledging your partner by letting them know that you’ve heard them is important.
11. Keep some disagreements for the next few conversations
It might be tempting to get it all out in the open and “solve” everything in one argument. But ask yourself: is it feasible? Having these difficult conversations can be very exhausting. Give yourself and your partner a chance to re-energize.
Save other important topics of conversation for a later time so that both of you can focus and work on them properly.
12. Acknowledge and thank your partner for talking with you about the matter
Defensiveness is often a self-perpetuating cycle that can facilitate defensive personality disorder tendencies in people. Try to identify the cues and keep the aforementioned pointers in mind. Have faith in yourself!
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.