The Defense Against Getting Defensive
There’s one aspect of my relationship with my husband that we have been working on since the day we got together, and that is “getting defensive.” I get defensive in conversations with my husband, I get defensive in conversations with my family, and I get defensive in conversations with my friends. Partially, I think it’s just a natural human quality. And the other part of it, might come from personal insecurities, maybe a lack of confidence, or a fear of being wrong. I will openly admit that I do have personal insecurities, as well as some lack in confidence and DEFINITELY a fear of being wrong (because I’m never wrong! … just kidding).
So if “getting defensive” might come with being human, why is it so bad? Just speaking from experience, I’ve noticed numerous negative effects. I noticed that when I get defensive in a conversation, most times it makes the other person also get defensive. From there, the conversation can be difficult to reach a resolution. Also, when I get defensive, I notice that most times, the other person shuts down. Instead of accepting the conversation for what it is (such as a friend expressing their feelings were hurt by me), when I get defensive, I suddenly change the trajectory of the conversation; the focus switches from my friend and her hurt feelings to something about me.
Through a combination of research and some great couples’ therapy sessions, my husband and I have come up with strategies that we use to try to combat our defensive behaviors. One thing we try to remind each other and ourselves is that taking responsibility is important. If you think about it, a relationship usually involves at least two people, so the relationship gets its energy from both parties. The relationship can often be a bunch of “snap shots” of our actions and reactions to one another over a period of time (at least that’s how I look at it!). So our actions cause reactions from our spouse (or friend), and vice versa. Therefore, taking responsibility is important for both people. Referring back to that previous example with my friend expressing her hurt feelings – taking responsibility reminds me to be a bit humbler and to show me that I can be at fault; it also validates my friend’s feelings to show her I’m listening to her and I understand.
Another strategy that we use is “listening.” I know, I know, this sounds like an obvious one. But you would be surprised at how often we, as humans, pretend we are listening to people or things going on around us, but we aren’t really processing it as information. This is the same reason that you often have trouble remembering what you were wearing two days ago. Unless there is a significant reason for you to remember (“I remember, I was wearing my favorite dress for the work event!”), your brain probably took the information in, but “processed” it as a low level of importance. Therefore, we are sometimes more likely to forget things like these, just like we tend to not always 100% listen. We both find it helpful to remind ourselves to JUST LISTEN when we notice ourselves getting defensive. It’s a reminder that the other person is trying to express themselves and they are entitled to their feelings, and our response to those feelings need to be validating, not defensive.
Like I said, “getting defensive” is sometimes a natural reaction and there are ways to work against it. Less defensiveness allows us to make the correct changes we need to, depending on the needs of the other person. Less defensiveness also allows us to get closer in our relationships. We have relationships for a reason – we obviously care about these other people. So, I feel like it’s important to show these relationships some respect, and put some work in to strengthen and fix what we can.