A heterosexual couple sitting on the couch next to each other in a defensive posture. Arms crossed.

Feeling Stuck: Who’s On Defense?

So what’s up with defensiveness?

Defensiveness is an attempt to protect ourselves from a perceived attack. Notice that I said perceived, as sometimes we really aren’t actually under attack.

My partner recently made a request from me.

“Hey love, can you put your banana peels into the compost instead of the sink?”

Pretty benign request, right?

This time, I felt the urge to get defensive. It’s not my usual go to strategy, my default when I’m upset is to blame, but this time I jumped on defense.

My internal dialogue was quick:
“Are you kidding me? You’re asking me to do this? How about all the times I emptied the oats out of your cereal bowl? This is what you are going to tell me today?”

Defensiveness was quick to formulate a response. The moment my partner asked me to do something wasn’t really an attack – it was a simple request.

When I talk about communication patterns, often partners are surprised to hear that they may be quite defensive. Many don’t realize they are defensive. The challenge with defensiveness is that it stops us from resolving conflict.

The antidote to defensiveness?

Here are two things you can do:

Take Responsibility

This is a hard one for many, as partners will want to get into a space of finding what or who is right or wrong. What is key here is not about what is right or wrong – it is about seeing how your partner is feeling and how your actions IMPACTED them. It doesn’t mean you were wrong – it means that, like any relationship, you affect each other. Avoid defending your position or over explaining yourself. Instead, focus on what your partner is trying to communicate to you. Be curious and try to understand what your partner is saying.

Side note, if you get stuck or feel overwhelmed, you can ask for a break in the discussion and let them know you will come back to it. Or, try asking questions of who/what/when/where/how to understand the issue more.

Apologize for a Part that is Upsetting Your Partner

It is incredibly healing to have someone apologize for some part of what has happened. With my partner and the banana peel? It wasn’t WRONG of me to put my peels in the sink, but I could simply see how it impacted him. I responded with “I’m sorry that I leave them for you to pick up. That doesn’t feel good and next time I will try to put them away.”

BUT HERE’S THE THING… are you ready?

Lean in a little…

I had a list of 5 things to refute my partner’s banana request. I had a long list to tell him all of the things he should be doing. But in this moment, I chose to value our relationship over my ego. This is a CHOICE that we must make each day. And in the end, for me, it wasn’t about the banana peels. It was about my partner expressing a NEED to be – and this is what I want to encourage in our relationship.

If you arrived at the end of this post and thought, “this is my partner!” I have something for you. Click here to check out my podcast episode on how you can respond to defensiveness.

Interested in learning more? Check out the companion blog:

>> Feeling Stuck: The Power of a United Front
>> Feeling Stuck: Is Blame Keeping You Stuck?