4 Horsemen – Defensiveness (Part 3 of 4)

Charlotte, NC

Defensiveness one of four relationship harming behaviors

Through the extensive research and work of John Gottman (world renowned author, researcher, and marriage therapist) four behaviors were identified that are likely to harm any relationship, especially an intimate relationship such as marriage.  These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  This series will cover all four, and today’s focus will be on defensiveness.

Just like criticism is, defensiveness is a common term that is quite familiar to most people. It is also a common behavior. But today we will talk specifically about how defensiveness is a problem in the context of an intimate relationship. Defensiveness is often the by-product of the first two horsemen: criticism and contempt. Both are variations of an attack on the other partner, and defensiveness is essentially putting up a wall to defend against a real or perceived attack.

Various forms of Defensiveness

Defensiveness can take various forms. It could come in the form of making excuses after something negative has been brought to your attention in order to shift blame away from yourself. A wife might comment that her husband was really harsh with the children the night before. Defensiveness would look like him making excuses, perhaps saying that the kids were acting up and drove him to it. It might also look like cross-complaining, or meeting one complaint with a complaint of your own… “Sure, but what you do is just as bad!”

Defensiveness is Common

As mentioned earlier, defensiveness is common. And in some cases it may not be the end of the world. You might get defensive if someone makes a rude comment to you at the grocery store. But aside from feeling frustrated for a bit, it has done no lasting damage. But in relationships defensiveness can cause major issues. Why? Because it cuts off critical communication. When you get defensive, you are no longer hearing what your partner has to say. And inevitably, an argument will ensue. If you cannot hear your partner’s complaints and adjust accordingly, issues in the relationship have little chance of getting better.

Antidote to Defensiveness

What is the antidote to defensiveness? Slowing down, listening well, and taking responsibility as needed. Sometimes it might mean letting go of something your partner said, understanding that they did not mean anything by it. Taking responsibility when you have messed up might be one of the hardest horsemen antidotes to practice, but it will be far worth it in the end. The first step might just be noticing that you are getting defensive and taking a deep breath before continuing. Remember that the end goal is healthy and productive communication, which leads to a healthy and meaningful relationship!

Robert Mcguire, Jr., LCMHC, EMDR-Therapist, is a licensed therapist in Charlotte, NC. Robert is available to see individuals or couples in the state of North Carolina, online or in-person. To learn more about Robert and how he can help work with you to reach your goals, click here at https://charlottecounselors.com/robert-mcguire-lcmhc-csat-c-emdr-therapist/. You can also email him at Robert@charlottecounselors.com or call him at 704-578-3323.