Do you aggressively defend yourself? Do you interrupt your partner when they are speaking with an urgent message about yourself? I’ll tell you one thing I know for sure about defensiveness. . . it is a marriage killer!
Think about this. If my partner is trying to tell me something, regardless of whether or not it is accurate, they will not be heard if I spend all of my time defending myself instead of trying to hear them! And how likely will my spouse hear me when I have just essentially just put my hand up and said “No, I’m not going to hear you, but you need to hear ME!” This is why defensiveness is a marriage killer because neither partner gets heard and they eventually just give up! Not being heard is one of the biggest issues that people deal with! It relates to one of our two most basic emotional needs – love and significance. If I can’t get anyone to hear me, then do I even matter?
So how do you stop defensiveness and open up the lines of real communication again? You are going to have to deal with your shame! Defensiveness is a product of shame. It is a hot need to prove that you are good! When we no longer have the negative core belief of “I’m bad” or “I’m worthless” or “I have to be perfect in order to be loved”, we can allow other people to think whatever they want to think about us. We can stop and consider if there is truth in it. It might hurt to hear that you are critical, or wrong, or manipulative, or whatever, but it isn’t about our being, it is about our behavior. And that we can change!
When you feel yourself getting defensive, stop and pay attention to what you are feeling underneath the anxiety. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I didn’t defend myself right now?” Wait until the answer comes. Then ask yourself why (the answer) matters so much. For example, my spouse is angry because I didn’t follow through on a task. If I don’t defend myself, they will think I am lazy. If they think I am lazy, they will think I’m a bad person. And . . . if they think I’m a bad person, they will leave me. Therefore, I must defend myself or I won’t be loved! With that kind of thinking, who wouldn’t have a high need to defend themselves? Problem is, now they are not only angry because I didn’t follow through, they are even angrier because I refused to hear them!
Now play it out a different way, my spouse is angry because I didn’t follow through on a task. If instead of defending myself, I listen to how frustrated they are, admit that I didn’t follow through, and validate how frustrating that must be for them, my spouse feels heard and has hope! They move towards healing the hurt instead of making it bigger. As a bonus, if I truly hear my spouse, then I will be motivated not to let it happen again. My spouse feels heard now and again later when I follow through. I’ve met both of my spouse’s two most important needs – love and significance! And that will prove to them that I am good far more than the best defensive argument ever could!