I love Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s marriage resources. Have you ever seen them speak? We have twice and they’re great! They give you tangible, practical tools to use in your marriage all the while telling stories that keep you laughing and letting you know they’re in the same boat the rest of us are in. I highly suggest you read their book The Good Fight. In their live presentation over this book, Fight Night, they reference Dr. John Gottman’s ability to predict (with an alarming rate!) divorce based on the presence of four characteristics in a marriage. Whoa!!! Four things can ruin your marriage if you do any one of them?!? Well that’s encouraging… Dr. Gottman so lovingly coined these no-nos the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse in Marriage. Guess what one of them is? Yep, defensiveness.
Now this is something I’ve struggled with all my life. According to Gretchen Rubin’s personality tendencies profiles I’m a questioner which means I question everything before I jump on board. Funny thing about a questioner is they don’t like to be questioned. So true. I don’t want to be doubted. It makes me feel stupid. I’m not a stupid person. Even so, I never felt good enough growing up. I don’t know whether those standards were self imposed or someone else’s standards of me. All I know is I can easily tell myself that I’m stupid, a failure. I can also tend to hear that in between the lines of what someone else is saying. I get very defensive as if my entire being is being attacked and not just one act questioned. Resonate with any of that?
So is my marriage doomed?!? Not if you ask me! We’ve made it twenty years and in all honesty I am madly in love with this man of mine. I could go on and on about how head over heels I am and you’d probably get nauseated and I’d give waaaay too much info! 🙂
But how? But it doesn’t cover this apocalypse. How do we thrive in a marriage where I often tend to become overly defensive prematurely? Here’s how I overcome defensiveness in my marriage when it rears its nasty b*tch face and threatens to cause problems between us.
Realizing its an issue is half the battle in overcoming defensiveness. It’s a major step in growth. If you’re not sure if you struggle with defensiveness ask these questions. Do you tend to interrupt? When your husband is saying something do you cut in to correct details he gets wrong? Are you forming a response while he’s still speaking? This can all be signs that you react with defensiveness.
This seems so easy but coming to terms with the fact that you struggle with defensiveness can be like trying to choke down that big bite a dry, crunchy french bread. I’ve come a long way. From thinking he’s just being an out right jerk face (or other not so nice words) to actually taking the split second to look inward and ask myself if I’m being defensive. Just being aware of the defensiveness means I’m already in a really good position to catch it early, simmer it down, and have a constructive conversation with my husband regarding whatever it is we’re trying to work out.
Look for those red flags we went through earlier. Are you interrupting him? Are you forming a response while he’s still talking? Both of these are signs that I use in identifying defensiveness in communication.
Something is said and within the first minute of communication the defensiveness ignites in order to protect you from criticism. First, we’re learning to recognize it in ourselves. Then, what to do about it?! For the next week, put a red dot between your thumb and finger. Every time you look down at it or it catches your eye, do a quick thought process. Ask yourself, “Have I reacted to something or someone with automatic defensiveness today? Am I defensive right now?” How? What actions came out as defense mechanisms? This will teach you awareness, help you dissect the situations to figure out how the defensiveness came out, and then you’ll be better equipped to avoid those in the future.
Remove the Emotion
Diffusing defensiveness is easier said than done. Why? Shocker, but sometimes we can be a tad emotional. When we lose tabs on our emotions and feeling we lose act out those feelings. And sometimes feelings can be liars. They’re not consistent and live in the moment. This isn’t necessarily healthy for a marriage. Trying to remove the emotion from the situation is a practical tool used to diffuse the defensiveness. Strictly focus on the factual details that are said and don’t assume tone or underlying meaning.
It’s hard but I have to avoid reading between the lines. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Take what he says at face value. What if he is throwing criticism at you between the lines? Remember, you can’t change him. You can ask for facts but you can’t pull words from his mouth. Trying to figure out underlying meanings to what he is saying is a quick way to misunderstand, get emotional, and react with defensiveness.
Know Your Insecurities
What situations make you feel like crap? What bad words do you call yourself? Look, we all have our insecurities. Places in our lives where deep down we don’t feel as competent as we think we should be. Sometimes your husband can hit that nerve with a comment or conflict. Knowing what insecurities you struggle with help you identify the defensiveness as a triggered insecurity rather than your husband actually throwing verbal arrows at your character.
I like to be right. Makes me feel all big and bad, like I’m smart. 😉 But sometimes I can be defensive of myself just because I want to be right. When that happens, I have to take a quick U-turn or it can be pretty painful.
I have to remember that my husband and I aren’t on competing teams. Sometimes it can feel like it but we’ve already established that feelings can also be liars. So I choose to look at the fact that we are on the same team, working together for the good of our family unit. Sometimes this means I don’t get to be the right spouse. On the other hand, if we’re a team then I’m right because I agreed with my hubs who was right. Hey, a win for the team is a win for me, right?!
Quit competing with your husband over who is right or who gets their way and you’ll start to overcome defensiveness in your marriage.
Fight control, Not Your Man
I have to constantly fight the need to control situations. I think it boils down to protecting myself and my family. In some ways it’s a good quality. In others it just causes worry. When I can’t control how the situation is going to work out, I get worried about the outcome. Then I get defensive because I’m trying to control the outcome. Doh!
There are situations that you and I don’t need to control. What’s ironic is when I learn this and let go of the need for control the worry seems to cut off too! Then I’m able to avoid becoming defensive over something because I’m no longer trying to control it. Instead I’m going with the flow, and open to seeing how things will pan out. Do they always work out perfectly? Nope. But honestly learning those little lessons as a team is way better than being on the defense and duking it out trying to control the outcome of a situation. That’s the real life lesson.
Get to the Heart
Sometimes my man can complain. Yours too?! 😉 A complaint is actually a healthy form of communication though! We’re not always going to do everything the way our spouse likes it. He’s not going to always do everything the way you like it. There will be complaints.
But complaints don’t have to equal criticisms. Sometimes he’s complaining about an action and I overreact in defensiveness because I take it as a criticism of my entire being. I have had to learn to differentiate between an opinion or complaint about a situation from an attack on my character. I have to remind myself that the man talking loves me, has a good heart, and ultimately wants a good outcome.
Nobody, always, never, everybody. “You always…” “I never…” “Nobody…” or “Everybody…”
Yep, any defensive statement that contains any one of those four words is not true. Plain and simple. Avoiding this language will help you overcome defensiveness that can ignite arguments pretty darn fast. Like an entire Fourth of July fireworks booth getting lit. I have to catch myself when using these words. I’ll stop mid-sentence and admit that’s not true. Nobody is always anything or always does anything.
Some of these methods to overcoming defensiveness are deep. They take some soul searching and brutal honestly with yourself. I promise pushing through them will be beneficial to your marriage. Others tips are more practical for the heat of the moment when defensiveness rears its, as Dr. Gottman says, ugly “apocalyptic” head. Tackle all of these issues and be well trained to overcome defensiveness and avoid its damage to your marriage.