If your S.O. comes at you with an accusation — say, that you’re still on Tinder — it makes sense why you’d get defensive. But however justified your feelings might be, Gottman Institute Certified Therapist Zach Brittle cautions against defensiveness (in fact, to avoid it even *more* than using these words during a fight). In fact, cutting back on defensiveness (and coping with your partner’s defensiveness) could even save you from a breakup.
According to Brittle, defensiveness is an inability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility. When someone is defensive, they either take no responsibility for their actions, or they take all of it. In either case, the behavior can be pretty destructive for a relationship.
“Being chronically defensive is like being chronically blind,” Brittle says. “The person you’re in a relationship with has to make some adaptations. And if you were blind, they would probably do that — they would move furniture around, and they would probably learn braille. But the problem with defensiveness is that it’s not quite legitimate and, most importantly, the impact is relational.”
This impact is so relational, in fact, that defensiveness is one of the four behaviors that predict relationship demise, according to The Gottman Institute. This is because, when one member of a relationship is defensive, “there’s no room for the other partner to participate, which is a relationship killer,” Brittle says.
Why We Get Defensive and How to Fix It
The roots of this relational problem normally lie in a person’s past. Brittle says that people who are defensive in arguments might have been raised in an environment where they felt as if they had to constantly justify themselves.
“We defend because we feel like we’re being attacked,” he said. “We may not actually get attacked, but we may feel like it. Somehow we learn that we’re not safe, or we learn that we’re not safe — so we defend.”
Knowing where defensiveness comes from can also help at alleviating it. While someone in a relationship with a defensive person can help their partner curb this habit through patience and understanding, the responsibility to change is on the defensive person himself or herself. Brittle says that the best way to combat this bad habit is to learn to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for your actions.
You can also curb your own defensiveness by being in a truly solid relationship.
“Be in a relationship with someone you love and trust, and let them hold up a mirror to you and be grateful for it,” Brittle says.
Do you have any tips for dealing with defensiveness? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)