Defensiveness: a contributor to relationship issues

When was the last time you felt defensive? Perhaps after your boss criticized the project after you had spent 16 hours per day for 1 week to complete it or when your friend insulted your taste in clothes. Defensiveness is an understandable reaction because the goal is self-protection after feeling attacked. The way you feel when someone threatens to hit you is the way you feel when someone hurls hurtful comments toward you. You literally want to defend yourself when you feel like someone has just been disrespectful or contemptuous!

However, the more you believe you are justified in being defensive, the more the problem escalates. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be angry, hurt or upset. It just means that reacting in a defensive manner usually worsens the issue.

Not sure if you get defensive in conversations? Here are a few ways you can tell you are becoming defensive:

1)      Denying responsibility. “It was your fault, not mine,” or “I don’t remember doing that.”

2)     Tossing it back: “You don’t listen to me.” “Well, you don’t listen to me!” (Basically matching anger with anger or blame with blame.)

3)     Broken record – repeating your stance over and over without trying to understand the other’s position or changing the course of the conversation

4)     Whining: “It’s not fair” or always playing the victim. (Basically making it seem like bad things happen to you first and trying to gain sympathy for it.)

5)     Body language: clenched fists, arms crossed over chest, body turned away

And the most common:

6)     Making excuses: “Yes, but….” or “I would have done it, but…”

During the conversation from the restaurant, the wife became defensive when she felt her husband was being disrespectful and not showing her consideration. At that point, the conversation had reached its climax and productivity toward resolving it had ceased. Now both of them were just trying to get their point across without regard to how it made the other feel.

The natural reaction to defensiveness is usually more defensiveness until someone gets tired of the unresolved conflict and stops engaging the conversation. This culmination of an unproductive argument, called stonewalling, will be detailed in the next article.

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