Do you find yourself constantly defending your position in an argument with your partner? Do you feel like your partner is always defensive and you can’t communicate with them? Defensiveness can be incredibly damaging to a relationship and cause it to become strained and distant.
Defensive behavior is a common issue in relationships and can lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, and disconnection.
It’s important to be aware of how you are reacting to certain situations, as a defensive reaction can have a huge impact on the way your relationship progresses and functions. Many of us don’t realize how our defensive behavior can be damaging to our relationship, and how it can be a barrier to effective communication.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to overcome defensive behavior in your relationship and move towards a more positive and communicative relationship.
In this article, we’ll explore how defensive behavior is killing your relationship and provide helpful tips for overcoming it. We’ll look at how to identify defensive behavior, how to address it, and how to create a healthier relationship dynamic. So, if you’re ready to make a change, keep reading and start taking steps towards a better relationship today.
What is defensive behavior?
A sign of defensiveness is when one partner in a relationship uses certain behaviors to avoid issues that may be causing conflict. This can be anything from changing the subject to avoiding difficult conversations altogether.
Defensive behavior is a way of protecting oneself from perceived criticism, rejection, or attack from someone else. It can be expressed in a variety of ways, from a subtle eye-roll or sarcastic comment to more extreme behaviors such as name-calling or physical aggression.
At its core, defensive behavior is a way of coping with the fear of being hurt or rejected. It is usually a reaction to the feeling that one’s worth or value is being threatened.
This can lead to a cycle of defensiveness and mistrust that can be difficult to break. People may also become defensive if they feel they are not being heard or respected.
Defensive behavior can manifest in different ways, such as:
- Making excuses.
- Belittling the other person.
- Being overly critical.
- Avoiding important conversations.
- Being overly sensitive and misreading your partner’s facial expressions.
It can also lead to feelings of anger, resentment, and insecurity in the other person.
Defensive behavior can have a damaging effect on relationships, as it can lead to a lack of trust and create an atmosphere of criticism and blame.
It can also prevent couples from communicating effectively and being able to resolve conflicts. Furthermore, it can prevent people from expressing their feelings openly, which can have a long-term impact on the relationship.
The first step to overcoming defensive behavior is to recognize it when it is happening. It is important to take the time to reflect on why it is happening and to try to identify the underlying fear or insecurity that is causing it.
Common Types of Defensiveness
Defensive behavior in relationships is an all-too-common occurrence. Defensive behavior can be a sign of underlying issues that need to be addressed, and it can create relationship problems and a disconnect between partners.
Some of the most common types of defensive behavior in relationships include avoidance, Ad Hominem attacks (criticism), defensiveness, stonewalling, and digging up the past.
Avoidance is one of the most common forms of defensive behavior in a personal relationship. It can involve actively attempting to avoid certain topics or difficult conversations, or it can involve physically or emotionally distancing oneself from the other person.
This can be a way to protect oneself from perceived hurt based on past experiences, which leads to a lack of trust and connection in the relationship.
2. Ad hominem attacks
These can take the form of sarcastic comments, nitpicking, or name-calling. Criticizing one’s partner is a way to deflect one’s own issues onto the other person, and it can lead to feelings of resentment and disconnection in your partner.
Gaslighting involves deflecting and manipulating your partner into believing that they cannot correctly recall past events. Gaslighting will lead to a partner in the relationship doubting themselves and feeling crazy.
4. Silent Treatment
Silent treatment, or stonewalling is a type of defensive behavior in relationships in which one partner shuts down and withdraws from the conversation or the relationship.
This can be a way to avoid feeling hurt or vulnerable. If you stonewall your partner, they will feel lonely and disconnected.
5. Dredging up the past
Dredging up the past when you are trying to avoid a difficult conversation or feeling the need to protect yourself is considered defensive behavior. Instead of focusing on the current situation, a defensive partner will bring up a past event as a way of deflection, changing the subject and pointing figures at their partner.
Overall, defensive behavior in relationships can take many forms, and it is important to identify and address the underlying issues.
It is important to communicate openly with one’s partner and to work together to come up with solutions that can help create a healthy and connected relationship.
How is defensive behavior killing your relationship?
Defensive behavior can ruin your relationship in a couple of ways.
If you’re constantly dealing with a partner who uses defensive behavior, you may find that you are stressed and on edge.
In order to avoid things getting out of hand, you may end up overreacting, becoming frustrated yourself, or withdrawing for the sake of peace.
Defensive behavior can cause partners to feel distant from each other. By avoiding issues that are causing conflict, you may end up cutting off important aspects of your partner’s identity.
This can cause partners to feel like they aren’t quite “enough” for each other, which can result in resentment and distance.
Defensive behavior, such as lashing out, belittling, and avoiding conflict, can have a serious and detrimental effect on relationships. It can create a climate of mistrust, resentment, and hostility and ultimately lead to a breakdown in communication.
Defensive behavior can make it difficult for couples to work through issues and can cause one partner to feel like their opinion is not valued or respected. It can also lead to a lack of understanding and compassion for one another.
When defensive behavior is present in a relationship, it is important to address it in a timely manner. If both partners are willing to work on the issue, they can identify the root of the problems and develop strategies to manage them.
This can involve identifying triggers and learning techniques to manage defensiveness, learning to communicate more effectively, and practicing constructive conflict resolution.
It is important to remember that defensive behavior is not always intentional. It can be a sign of underlying distress or insecurity. It is important to take the time to understand why a person might be feeling defensive and to validate their feelings.
This can help to create an atmosphere of understanding and compassion, which can be incredibly beneficial for your relationships.
Behavioral blind spots occur when we do not take the time to identify with parts of ourselves and realize the negative effect that these behaviors are having on our relationships.
Identifying defensive behavior in your relationship
Here are some signs your partner may be using defensive behavior. These behaviors may be subtle, so pay close attention to what your partner says and does. Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can take steps to address it.
A defensive person avoids discussing hard topics or issues that may be causing tension in the relationship. They may avoid talking about finances, religion, or abuse in their past.
Your partner avoids discussing issues that may be important to you. This could be about topics like work, your kids, or your future plans.
Your defensive partner will interrupt you while you are talking; they may cut you off or use sarcasm when you’re talking. This may feel like a way of “talking over” you or “getting you to keep quiet” when you talk about important but uncomfortable topics.
Your partner criticizes your friends or family, especially your loved ones, when they’re not present. This could be subtle, like your partner saying, “That’s not how you talk to your mom” when you’re talking to her on the phone. Your partner could also be withholding support by only offering criticism of your loved ones.
Insults or name-calling are also categorized as defensive behavior. This may feel like a way of “getting back” at you when you want to talk about a particular topic that is uncomfortable.
Your partner is frequently moody, angry, or distant. This may feel like “sudden mood swings” or a change in “character”, especially if they’ve been particularly loving and supportive up until that point.
My personal opinion is that if defensive behavior is not addressed, it results in the blame game, and long-term, the defensive attitude will result in a relationship with no safe space or constructive communication.
Strategies to address your partner’s defensive behavior
If you want to overcome defensive behavior in your relationship, you need to be proactive about addressing it. Here are some ways you can do this. –
1. Be patient
Don’t rush your partner or try to make things happen immediately. This is likely to create a sense of urgency and pressure, which is likely to cause your partner to feel defensive. This is not the time to get into a “who’s right and who’s wrong” debate. This is the time to discuss the issue.
2. Know when to back off
If your partner is using aggressive or violent language, you need to back off. Rather, wait for a time to calmly discuss the issue.
3. Body Language
Body language can communicate 1,000 words, so it is important to be aware of what is being communicated to your partner through your body language.
4. Be mindful of your body language
Make sure you’re not crossing your arms, tapping your foot, or doing any other “body language” that communicates aggression. This will likely “spike” your partner’s defensive response.
5. Speak slowly and clearly
This is especially important when your partner is using aggressive language. Your partner will likely have “read” your body language and be interpreting your tone as aggressive. Ensure that your tone of voice is calm.
Strategies to address your own defensive behavior
The following strategies are simple steps that will bring a positive light to your relationship and overcome your defensive behavior.
1. Building a more positive relationship dynamic
If you are aware of your defensive behavior and would like to work on your defensiveness in the relationship, you need to create a more positive relationship dynamic.
Here are some things that you can focus on that will help you build a more positive relationship dynamic.
- Take an honest look at how you communicate.
- Do you “talk over” your partner, dismiss their opinions, or talk down to them?
- Do you interrupt when they’re trying to speak?
Recognize that you aren’t “wrong” for expressing emotions or showing frustration, but these behaviors are not a healthy way of communicating with your partner. Your partner has the best intentions for you. If you have had a rough day, take deep breaths and give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Focus on making a positive change in your relationship.
2. Increase Self-awareness
Next time you have a difficult conversation with your partner, become more aware of your communication style and defensiveness.
The point of the conversation is to find common ground and compromise on a solution. The point of defensive behavior is to try and place any focus on blame on your partner rather than looking at your own flaws.
Defensiveness can be very difficult to identify and will take some practice to overcome. I would suggest that you practice in low-stakes situations in areas of your life where your defensive behavior is more easily managed.
This will prepare you to manage your own feelings and communication skills when you next have a difficult conversation with your partner.
3. Validate your defensiveness
Defensiveness is a natural response and can be very difficult to deal with. Defensiveness is a result of a perceived attack. So by validating your defensiveness, you are reducing the perceived attack, and in that way, you will be more easily able to work on your defensive behavior.
4. Boost your self-esteem
Defensive behavior often stems from low self-esteem and a feeling of vulnerability. This feeling of vulnerability may stem from past experiences or toxic relationships.
Building your self-esteem will make you feel less attacked and less defensive. Self-esteem can be improved with the use of journaling or affirmations.
5. Be clear on how you want to react
When you feel criticized or uncomfortable, you know that you will react defensively. However, as you are reading this, I’m assuming that this is not your preferred way to react.
Take the time to think through scenarios for how you would prefer to react. Be clear on your values so that when a situation arises where you would normally lash out in the heat of the moment, you will now have a clear, predetermined, less defensive way of reacting.
6. An open line of communication
If you want to overcome defensive behavior in your relationship, you need to keep communication lines open.
You need to be able to talk about important topics, such as love, your values, or your identity. Practice active listening and focus on understanding the other person’s perspective rather than reacting defensively. Be honest and open in communication, and strive to resolve conflicts in a constructive way.
7. Be compassionate
Remember the old saying that Rome was not built in a day? Well, you too will not fix your defensive communication overnight, and that is okay. The important thing is that you are making an effort to improve the situation and have positive intentions of improving the way you communicate.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is defensiveness, and how is it manifested in a relationship?
Defensiveness is a natural response to feeling threatened or criticized. In relationships, it often appears as counter-blaming, making excuses, or avoiding responsibility. When one partner feels attacked, they may become defensive as a means of self-protection, even if the perceived attack wasn’t intentional.
2. Why is defensiveness considered harmful to relationships?
Constant defensiveness can hinder open communication and create a barrier to understanding and empathy. It can prevent partners from addressing the real issues at hand, leading to unresolved conflicts and a cycle of blame.
3. What triggers defensiveness in relationships?
Many factors can trigger defensiveness, including past traumas, unresolved conflicts, feeling unappreciated or disrespected, or fearing rejection or abandonment. Sometimes, even innocent comments can be misconstrued based on past experiences or insecurities.
4. How can one recognize their own defensiveness and work towards reducing it?
Self-awareness is key. Paying attention to feelings of being “on edge” or wanting to counteract criticism immediately can be indicators. Reflecting on one’s reactions and seeking feedback from trusted individuals can help. Open communication with a partner about feelings and seeking therapy or counseling can also be beneficial.
5. Can both partners in a relationship be defensive? How does this dynamic affect the relationship?
Yes, both partners can exhibit defensiveness. When this happens, it can create a cycle of blame and counter-blame where each party feels misunderstood and unheard. This can further escalate tensions and make resolution difficult.
6. What strategies can couples use to overcome defensiveness and foster healthier communication?
Active listening, where each partner genuinely tries to understand the other’s perspective without interrupting or getting defensive, is crucial. Taking breaks during heated discussions, using “I” statements instead of placing blame, and seeking couples therapy can also be effective strategies to improve communication and reduce defensiveness.
Defensive behaviors are coping mechanisms that help you deal with vulnerability. To be the best version of yourself, you will actively need to work on being less defensive.
Healthy relationships take work, and we need to deal with the baggage that we carry to find healthier ways of having constructive conversations.
It is definitely worth the effort to attempt to be less defensive and to understand the effect that defensiveness has on your relationship.