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Is Defensiveness Ruining Your Relationship?

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Defensiveness doesn’t work well in relationships. In fact, I often say defensiveness is a relationship killer. Defensiveness makes it impossible to resolve issues. When issues don’t get resolved, they fester and get bigger. Unresolved issues lead to disconnection and distance in relationships. And worse, defensiveness makes people feel like resolution is impossible. It's like banging your head against a brick wall until you realize there's no point in trying anymore. At that point, people start to wonder if they want to stay in the relationship. This process isn’t necessarily fast, but unless you work on being less defensive, it’s inevitable.

Imagine that defensiveness is like putting up a brick wall that nothing can get through. This wall creates distance between you and anyone on the other side of that wall. Also, with a brick wall standing between you, no new information can get to you or to them. It's a place of stuckness and pain.

To help conversations move along toward resolution, you have to lower the brick wall enough to see the other person, and for the other person's information to reach you. That means taking steps to lessen your defensiveness.

The following tips will aid you in lowering your brick wall (aka lessening your defensiveness), so that you move toward resolving issues and getting connected:

  1. Recognize when defensiveness emerges. Imagine a brick wall has gone up.

  2. Slow down and take a few breaths. Use grounding techniques to soothe your nervous system. This will help lower the brick wall.

  3. Be open to being wrong, and try to find out how your partner’s experience is right and valid, though different. Ask questions if you can’t see it automatically. There’s always a grain of truth to validate, and until you validate some aspect of what your partner is saying, you and your partner will fight. Or, you’ll stuff the unresolved issue down until it gets so big you can’t ignore it any longer.

  4. Apologize. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt your partner, you did, and you can apologize without admitting something that isn’t true. Use empathy to show you understand the injury you’ve caused.

  5. Let it go.

To learn what defensive language sounds like, click here. This is a list of the exact phrases often used when you or others are being defensive.

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