How Defensiveness Hurts Our Marriages Ep 51

How Defensiveness Hurts Our Marriages | Relationship Coach

Hello AwakenYou listeners, how are you all doing this week? How many of you are noticing and relishing the longer days we have been experiencing? Even though it has been brutally cold here this winter, I see signs of spring every day on our morning walk, including hearing those birds singing their praises! This week we are diving back into looking at signs that your marriage might be headed in the wrong direction, and if you missed last week’s client success story with Arlene Mojica, you must take a listen. Arlene shares all of the unexpected results she achieved by pouring herself into the work and believing that the process would change her life and her marriage. Over the past couple of months, I have been taking you through different signs that your marriage might be headed for divorce; Ep 44 Is Divorce In Your Future? This week, we will look at how defensiveness is hurting your marriage.

What I’m going to talk about with you is what defensiveness is and how it is destructive to your marriage, why we are defensive, ways we are defensive, and how to transition away from being defensive. Ready? Let’s dig in!

What is defensiveness and why are we using it in our marriage?

Defensiveness distracts you from those underlying negative feelings that come up when your spouse says something that has you thinking in ways that make you feel hurt, angry, guilty, or ashamed. It denies your responsibility for the presented problem because it has you deflecting the other person instead of seeing and addressing the issue as a relationship problem you need to work out together.

Defensiveness might seem justified, but it never helps to solve any problem; it only makes the problem worse, which of course, then creates less connection and more disconnection. It blocks creativity and tells your spouse that their feelings don’t matter.

Why we chose defensiveness

  • It could be an old reaction to feeling insecure, possibly a learned auto-response that could easily be changed by pausing and re-considering your reaction
  • You could be reacting to something you want to hide, if you’re lying about something or withholding the truth an instinctual response could be defensiveness
  • You haven’t learned how to state your case and let it be different from your spouses so instead you resort to defensiveness
  • It could be a natural response to early childhood trauma or abuse because it takes you out of a percieved weakened position and makes you feel more powerful
  • Insecurity to how someone is reacting to your character or a behavior makes you feel like you have to defend yourself

Ways of being defensive

  • Not accepting responsibility for your part in the disagreement
  • Making excuses instead of owning the truth in your part
  • Counter-complaining which is responding to a complaint with your own complaint which is trying to one-up your partner, ignoring their comment and presenting something you percieve to be worse or more worthy of complaining about
  • Childish playback is like what we did as children, repeating the complaint and then putting it back on them
  • Using “yes-but” instead of “what I love about that is – and…” The “but” negates your partner’s suggestion which then stops forward connection
  • Continuing to repeat your stance while ignoring and not considering your partner’s perspective. This has you continuing to repeat a version of your story/perspective over and over without hearing what it is your spouse is asking for.
  • Whining which has you deflecting any responsibility and claiming innocence

We are responsible for our own actions in our marriages

Staying focused on ourselves and what is happening inside us is the key to ending criticism (ep 46), contempt (ep 48), and defensiveness. Our job is to keep the focus on how we can improve instead of what the other is doing. Though how our partners’ act can undoubtedly affect how you feel, it doesn’t have to determine how you respond.

It’s crucial to remember that we want to be allies in our marriages, not enemies (Ep 25: From Enemy To Ally). When you notice that you have moved to defensive lines, just be conscious of that and allow yourself to move back to the ally lines.

How to move away from the habit of being defensive

First, you must learn how to regulate your emotions; listen to episode 35 to get more information on how to regulate your emotions. Noticing that we are being flooded with negative emotions is something I often talk about here on AwakenYou. Identifying and feeling our feelings is one of the first things we work on in my coaching program because our feelings are indicators of what is happening emotionally for us. Knowing how to regulate our emotions to stay calm and not resort to defending ourselves is critical in building connections in our marriages.

Secondly, learn how to self-soothe. When you notice your emotions and see that you want to react and defend yourself, you can stop, pause, self-soothe and choose something different; even nothing might be a choice to let the dust settle before you move on. Listening to episode 38 on how to self-soothe to a happier marriage will help tremendously. You can count to five, focus on your senses, look your partner in the eyes, focus on your breathing, and then be able to explain to your partner what is going on for you. You can tell them that you are feeling defensive and that you want to do something different by taking time to process what is happening for you and better hear what they have to say. You can ask for a pause to better hear what they need, and this is where you as a couple can throw out that signal I have talked about in the past, which allows both of you to know what is happening and that one or both of you needs some space.

Thirdly, owning your part of the problem will go a long way in moving forward. A simple acknowledgment of how the other is right will go so far. There is never a “need” to be right, and both of you own a “right” part in the conversation or disagreement.

Fourth, commit to noticing your negative thoughts and learning how to re-direct them. My free Relationship Abundance mini-course will help with this practice. Focusing on negative thoughts keeps you in a negative thought and emotional loop pattern. Here is an example of how self-soothing can come into the picture: Let’s say you are thinking your spouse is “so hard-headed” – this keeps you thinking about more of their “negative” traits while you could recognize this and then think something along the lines of “Don’t internalize his actions and words, you are just getting flooded with emotions which are driving you to think negative thoughts, take a deep breath, go do some writing and know that this will pass.

Fifth, stop taking everything so literally. We read into what others say based on our insecurities so how can you instead get curious about their experience? Ask yourself why you are focusing on this one thing, and what if I’m missing the point and not understanding? Then repeat to your spouse what you hear them saying and ask questions to learn more about what they are presenting instead of prying into their comments to see how they might be directed at you. Notice how sometimes we are so in our head trying to figure out how our spouse is being critical that we are no longer present in the conversation, listening to what our partners have to say.

Managing our differences in our marriages is crucial to building a successfully satisfying relationship. When we don’t feel the need to defend, we allow for our differences to be present and ok so we can do things like have more fun in our marriage!

Notice how all of what we discussed today has roots in our self-security and how well we know, accept, and strengthen our relationship with ourselves. When we are insecure, we twist around our spouse’s words to mean something negative about ourselves. As we do the work of building our relationship with ourselves, as we do in AwakenYou, we start letting go of assumptions while hearing our partners from a more curious and interested space. From here, we can let go of our defensiveness.

Remember, all of these practices start with awareness, so now that you are aware of the danger of defensiveness, you can start noticing when it comes up, not only in your marriage but check out when you might be using it in other less vulnerable relationships, and now you can start taking steps towards a different choice.


I am a life coach who works with women who are struggling with how their lives and marriage feel through the process of awakening their true selves. My process isn’t about changing your partner; it’s about discovering who you are so that you can AwakenYou in your life and marriage, which by the way will have you see how your partner is magically changing too. If you’re ready to take yourself to a place where you can fall back in love with your life and your spouse, then schedule your program inquiry call today and let’s talk about your next steps to a brand new life you are crazy in love with!