When your partner brings up something that is bothering her in your relationship, it can be easy to put up a wall and start to defend yourself. But what if you took a deep breath and were careful about how you responded? Your partner is being vulnerable when she tells you something that hurt her, so shutting down with defensiveness will only teach her not to open up in the future. Here are some ways that you can learn to stop being defensive and own up to your own feelings and responsibility.
People who feel good about themselves are less likely to be defensive about another person’s opinion. If you know that you are good at your job, for example, it’s easier for you to take a co-worker’s criticism with a grain of salt than if you have been harboring doubts about your work. One of the best things you can do to stop being defensive in your relationship is to work on YOU. When you have a good self-esteem and are confident that you are smart, kind, and a good partner — you may not fly off the handle when your spouse questions something that you did or said. Since we are often most defensive when a button about our insecurity is pushed, building a stronger you will bring down your defensiveness.
Use “I” Statements for Feelings
Focus on “I” statements when it comes to talking about feelings. Remember that your feelings are not facts — so you shouldn’t present them as such. For instance, don’t say “You’re untrustworthy,” or other “you” statements that deflect your own feelings and put them on the other person. Instead say, “I feel nervous when I don’t hear from you” and explain why that brings up feelings of mistrust. It’s better to own your part in your feelings instead of just placing all the blame for how you feel on the other person. Sometimes your own history can have a lot to do with why you feel a certain way now — and your partner has little to do with it.
Be Conscious of Past Events — But Try to Move Forward
People are often defensive when they have historically been attacked, blamed, or criticized. When that is the case, your defensiveness may have nothing to do with what your partner is actually saying — your history of being attacked is just quickly coming in to play. If you have a history of family and former lovers attacking you, you may be always waiting for an attack. You will need to find your pause button, slow things down, and figure out the root of the issue. If you feel you are going to be attacked (or are being attacked) your job is to call it out to your partner. Open up and share that you feel attacked and that doesn’t feel good. Instead of being defensive and withdrawing, start a conversation about how you can change your interactions in the future so you both feel respected.
Being defensive can be a real road block for healthy communication in your relationship. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a total deal breaker. Instead, you can learn to put the past behind you, harness self-esteem, and work out communication with your partner that is constructive. If you’re ready to start the work, visit me for some individual or couples counseling soon!
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653