Couples and Conflict:  Defensiveness

by John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally Connolly, LMFT

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Defensiveness is a block to healthy communication and conflict resolution.

  • “My partner does not understand me.”
  • “My spouse is always unfair with her criticism.”
  • “He always has to be right.”
How many of these statements would you answer “true”?
Do you prepare for an attack before it happens?
Do you believe that the best defense is a good offense?

When anyone feels attacked, it is normal to want to defend yourself; however, responding defensively when presented with a complaint is one way to end the opportunity for healthy conversation and connection in a relationship. It also opens the door for an escalating argument.

Slow down

The best thing to do when presented with a complaint is to slow down and find a way to listen to your partner; possibly even entertaining the idea that they might be right … or have a point worth considering.

Amazingly, those who are able to let go of defensiveness, also feel better about themselves and about their partner. They recognize that “listening to” does not mean “agreeing with” but is rather a respectful way of saying “You … and your ideas … are important to me, even if we do not see things the same way.”

It may feel uncomfortable

Hearing another person’s complaints about you can feel very uncomfortable, and yet, you might learn something useful, if you can relax and take it from an “informational perspective.” 

One of the most important things to remember when practicing listening rather than defending is that it truly gives you power. When someone else feels heard, they are much more likely to “hear”.

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