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Jennifer McEwan, PhD
7 Tips To Deal With a Defensive Partner
Mount Vernon Family Therapy Associates
. http://www.mountvernontherapy.com

7 Tips To Deal With a Defensive Partner

Do you ever say to yourself:

“People tell me I’m defensive.”

“My partner turns everything around on me.”

“My spouse gets defensive
when I say how I feel.”

Partners can trigger each other’s defenses more easily than others can. That’s because damage to our most important bond alarms us. We get defensive when something weakens our connection. Every couple gets defensive sometimes. The ones that come out stronger learn to minimize defensiveness.

Defensiveness is one of the “four horsemen” that can drive couples apart. That’s what Dr. John Gottman found after studying thousands of partners. The four horsemen are:

Criticism – blaming the whole person; faulting their character

Defensiveness – refusing to be accountable; turning the blame on your partner

Contempt – name calling, sarcasm, put-downs

Stonewalling – withdrawing, not responding

Defenses go up with criticism. So if someone is defensive, he or she may be feeling attacked.

Successful couples avoid being defensive. “Love masters” try to calm themselves and listen to each other. Seven top ways to deal with defensiveness are:

1. Release tension. Use friendly body language. Take deep breaths. Soften your belly. Make it safe to be present.

2. Face each other. Gentle eyes can be powerfully calming.

3. Speak kindly. Speak for your feelings (not from your feelings). Start with something positive like: “I know you don’t mean to hurt me but something is bothering me. I want to talk about it and put it to rest.”

4. Act like friends. Take the same side against the problem: “I want us both to feel better.”

5. Stop when flooded. Hearing insults? Yelling and screaming? Stop! These are signs one or both of you is emotionally flooded. When a person is flooded, no one can solve problems. Take a break.

6. Wait 20 minutes to calm down. That’s how long it takes to burn off adrenaline and return the heart rate to normal.

7. Try to understand what triggered the defenses:  “I’m listening. What’s wrong?”

When To Call
a Couples Therapist

Have you tried your best, and still see defensive behavior? Working with a good therapist can help. Couples therapy is a safe space to look behind your defenses. You learn how to do this for yourselves.

No partner is perfect. Caring more about the relationship than winning a fight is key to stop being defensive and giving your love new life.

MD (301) 805-6805 | VA (703) 288-3130