Today we are talking about the 3rd Horsemen: Defensiveness.
(Start here for the series: 4 Easy Ways to Kill Your Relationship)
It seems protective, yet it holds the power of death.
Defensiveness often will rear its head in response to Criticism. However, I have seen Defensiveness when the other is simply expressing a concern.
Defensiveness starts in the mind.
Perhaps at the root of this action are feelings of insecurity and lack. The thoughts creating this feeling might be, “I am not good enough.” “I am defective.” “Something is wrong with me.” And so it interprets the other person’s complaint through this filter.
Defensiveness perceives an attack. It feels threatened. It feels vulnerable.
We see the first case of defensiveness in the Bible right after we learn about creation.
In the story of “The No No’s” as my daughter liked to call it, Adam and Eve disobeyed. Adam blamed the Apple Eating on Eve; Eve blamed it on the snake. When questioned, defensiveness was the go to.
Defensiveness wants to offer explanations and be understood. Yet, in offering explanations it silences the other person. It refutes what they are saying.
The thoughts you have when you are defensive are about what you can’t control–someone else’s thoughts.
People get to have opinions. Other’s get to think what they want about a circumstance.
When I am intentional and I feel defensive, I tell myself that my husband is trying to create closeness and that he is not against me. Instead of getting defensive, I try to think maybe he is hurting or concerned, not that there is something wrong with me.
I can’t say I don’t ever jump to defend myself or offer an explanation, but I try to listen and understand where he is coming from.
The antidote to Defensiveness is to listen to your partner’s complaint without feeling attacked. It would be better to say, “I am feeling defensive” than to get defensive.
If you tend to feel defensive, ask yourself, what are the underlying thoughts that make me feel that?
Recognize that changing a defensive pattern takes practice.
Recognizing the feeling of defensiveness and breathing it in can help us feel the emotion without reacting to it and slow down the physiological flooding.
Once we are able to pause and recognize that we are wanting to act out defensively, we can identify other helpful thoughts that help us to actually listen.
My partner is really feeling what he is feeling.
My partners experience is valid and so is mine.
I am interested in what my husband is perceiving and experiencing.
When we share a complaint with our husband and he listens without becoming defensive that feels really really good. We feel listened to. Even if our husband disagreed with what we shared or wanted something contrary, if he first legitimately validated and appreciated what were were feeling, we would at least think, “wow, he gets where I am coming from.”
Wouldn’t it be great to offer that to him? Wouldn’t that feel good for you? (and believe me once you quit resisting what you think is painful , pushing into it….it feels so freeing!)
When we feel listened to and understood, we are better listener’s ourselves.
In thinking about how you want to show up, think about how you want your husband to respond to you when you share. Offer that same non-defensive response, by reminding yourself that his opinions and perceptions are valid. And so are yours.
When you do this, you can listen without defense and seek to love, understand and honor in the way you desire.