Your Defensiveness in Your Relationship

Defensiveness is hard to stop in yourself, and hurtful for your relationship. In this episode, we cover ways you can check yourself and calm yourself to not let defensiveness run wild in your heart and your relationship.

Your defensiveness might be escalating arguments or putting up walls between you and your partner.

Try to think back on an argument you’ve had with your spouse. Did it lead to you throwing accusations at them or giving them a long list of what they’ve done wrong? I imagine your defensiveness is a way of protecting yourself from hurt, and it happens quickly, oftentimes out of your control. But once defensiveness gets going, it can be incredibly harmful. It’s so important for you to recognize it, and for us to put a stop to it.

Here are practical steps to work on your defensiveness:

  • Right now, take a big, slow, deep breath. Seriously, now. Where did you feel the air in your body? Let the fresh oxygen sink deep into your stomach, beyond the top of your lungs. Your stomach should expand as you inhale, taking in the fresh air. Take a few deep breaths until you feel more relaxed and at ease.
  • Whenever you enter into a conversation with your spouse, or as you notice yourself getting defensive, go ahead and take those deep breaths.
  • Next, find a time you can be alone and calm to reflect on things. First, ask yourself “When we have an argument, and I get defensive, what is it that usually sets me off or makes me defensive?” This might be a harsh tone or criticism from your partner. Pinpoint what it is that sets you off so you can recognize your trigger points.
  • Next, ask yourself “When my partner does or says the things that set me off, how do I initially feel?” This might be anger, frustration, or disappointment, or something else. Figure out what that immediate feeling is that you get.
  • Now, make sure you’re still calm as you think through this. When your spouse does the thing that pushes your buttons, what does that really mean to you? Maybe it tells you that they don’t value you and the effort you put in, or that you’re unappreciated. Whatever your partner does that leads to your defensiveness may be triggering something much deeper inside of you. We all want to be worthwhile and valued by our partner.
  • Remember, you are brave for doing this hard work. And, this is a continuous journey. You may have to come back to this and reflect on multiple occasions.
  • Now that you’ve really begun learning more about yourself, set aside a time to share this with your spouse. Be authentic. Be genuine. Help them hear this new self-awareness you have. It’s ok to ask for their patience, support, or understanding as you do this. Try to have this conversation at a time when you and your spouse are on good terms and getting along.

But what about when your defensiveness gets triggered? It will still happen. And here’s what you can do:

  • Self-soothe. Take those deep, calming breaths. Stay present.
  • Slow down and communicate what you’re feeling with your spouse. You can also share what their actions actually mean to you, and how they make you feel about your relationship. You might say “I understand this issue is frustrating to you and I want us to resolve it. I also know that right now, as I heard you say this to me, it made me feel upset and I can tell I’m starting to feel defensive. I think what your words meant to me is that the hard work and effort I put into our marriage isn’t valued by you, or that I’m not valued. I don’t believe that’s your intent, and I really want to engage in this conversation with you. But please know that when you said it in that tone to me, it was hurtful. I struggled to engage because I don’t feel important to you. I love you and want to work through this, and I need to feel important to you. So can we find another way to discuss this?”
  • Remember this takes hard work and time. It might take several tries for you to do this. You and your spouse have been stuck in a pattern of defensiveness for a while, so it’s likely that neither of you are used to this new way of resolving issues. Be patient. Connecting with your spouse is more important than defending yourself in a moment of frustration.

Special thanks to:

Will Gladden of LEVEL Digital Music Entertainment for making the podcast music.


I always hope to provide you with the best help for improving your marriage and authentically connecting with your spouse. Please feel free to offer support and suggestions through your ratings and reviews on your podcast player.
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