Defensiveness is refusing to accept responsibility for one’s actions in a way that escalates the conflict.
Last week we talked about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (The first can be found here: https://agapecatholicministries.info/family-life/criticism-the-first-horseman/ . The second here: https://agapecatholicministries.info/marriage/6726/ ) This is the term for four toxic behaviors that often lead marriages to divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Criticism and contempt involve demeaning and disrespecting your partner. Defensiveness is often the result of receiving such treatment.
Defensiveness: I didn’t do anything!
Making our case and standing up for ourselves are perfectly reasonable responses to criticism and contempt. However, the behavior of defensiveness turns one spouse into an attacker and the other into a martyr. Playing the victim or stating a “counterattack” are the hallmarks of defensiveness. Defensiveness is often a “silent killer” of marriages because it unwittingly pits spouses against each other.
When people are prone to be defensive, they often cannot accept constructive complaints. If I am inclined to defensiveness, my husband cannot share a complaint or concern with me without it going poorly. He could request as respectfully as possible I hang his long-sleeved shirts on the right side of his closet. There would be no trace of criticism or contempt in this simple, reasonable request. But, if I am looking for an attack and expecting to defend myself, it will still go poorly. I will still give a response akin to, “Well, you can never manage to put my stuff away correctly (counterattack)! If were ever around to do your own laundry, we wouldn’t have this problem (victim mentality)!”
So, how do we respond without being defensive when we feel attacked? Whether it’s a real attack (criticism and contempt) or an imaginary attack?
Antidote: I respect you, and you respect me.
This is the person you’ve chosen to marry! You’ve given your life to this person. You’re not enemies. You’re teammates, in every sense of the word. The antidote to defensiveness is refusing to treat your spouse with anything less than perfect respect. And you need to believe that your spouse respects you.
If defensiveness has a place in your marriage, take a step back. Do you feel respected, loved, and cherished by each other? Or is something wrong in the grander scheme of your relationship? Why are you inclined to be defensive and to look for attacks from your spouse? Are there other horsemen running loose in your home?
What are you going to do to fix it?