We all get defensive from time to time—those moments when our emotions seem to take over, controlling us like a marionette caught in a wind storm. Reacting defensively is never empowering, and we typically don’t feel good about ourselves (or our marriage/relationship) after becoming defensive. We may even attempt to deny our guardedness after the fact, even when it’s obvious to everyone else around us.
As you might imagine, chronic defensiveness communication can be a real problem for your marriage/relationship—it’s a recipe for an ongoing breakdown in communication, repeated frustrations and cycles of negativity. So it should be a top priority for couples to address this issue. One of the most important ways to reduce defensiveness is to identify the negative impact it is having on your relationship/marriage.
Relationship reality: The negative fallout of chronic defensiveness is considerable.
5 Pitfalls of Defensive Communication
1) You cannot be defensive and at the same time listen to your spouse’s/partner’s perspective—the cardinal rule of effective couples communication is violated when defensiveness takes hold: No One Is Listening!;
2) Defensiveness begets defensiveness (and usually after a defensive interaction both parties come away feeling unappreciated, totally misunderstood or victimized by the other);
3) Over time, defensiveness feeds a negative energy of hostility, resentment and, at some point, apathy—relationships cannot exist in this kind of toxic environment;
4) The lack of openness, and increased frustration and anger associated with defensiveness, erode the trust and emotional safety that is vital for an intimate relationship;
5) Defensiveness can take a physical toll on everyone involved—defensive-reactivity places our bodies in an elevated stress-response that can inhibit rational-clear thinking, and tax us emotionally and physically.
As you can see from the above list, overcoming defensive communication should be a priority for couples wanting to experience the gifts of effective communication. And remember, you must be responsible for your own defensiveness. The mindset “But my spouse/partner is making me react defensively!” will only lead to communication stagnation.
Dr. Rich Nicastro