5 Ways to Stop Being So Defensive in Marriage

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Are you wondering why you get so defensive and riled up by your partner?

Emotions are normal in a relationship. But what if you often find yourself in heated discussions and defending your way of doing things? In the end, both you and your spouse walk away feeling hurt and disconnected.

In this article, we’ll share with you the top five ways to stop the defensive communication in your relationship. Stop wasting time apologizing for bitter arguments and pivot to a healthier and more productive communication style instead. Read on to learn more about the tools that can strengthen your connection and turn your marriage around.

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Stop Being Defensive Tip #1: Notice

When you’re feeling defensive or triggered, you might blame it on your partner’s actions or your own overwhelming emotions. So you think: ‘If only I can manage my emotions better.’

But here’s the real deal: getting a better grip of your emotions won’t solve defensiveness in your relationship. What actually works is finding out why we get defensive in the first place. 

There’s no need to avoid defensiveness altogether. All you need is to learn the skills that address defensiveness when it arises.

When you’re feeling defensive, you might not notice it at first because you’re busy finding counter-arguments to what your spouse is saying. You’re busy defending. Before you know it you’re caught fighting with each other again. 

So how can you get out of this defensive cycle? It’s quite simple: Notice.


Take a moment to feel your body. Feel how you’re breathing. Pay attention to the sensations in your gut, chest, shoulders and jaws. Then allow yourself to relax a bit more. This is how your body feels when you’re at ease. 

Now, think of the last argument you had with your spouse where you got defensive. Imagine what they said that ticked you off. Spend some time bringing the memory back. Then notice your body: how does it feel compared to before?

When you get defensive, you’ll have a physical reaction to it: your body will tense up. Most of the time that’s felt in the chest, gut, shoulder or jaw area. The tension is your signal that you’re getting defensive.

You can repeat this exercise several times to really get a feel for it. Want to make it extra effective?  Get this free guided audio that walks you through the exercise. (OPT-IN)

If you have a hard time recalling moments where you’ve been defensive, then just pay attention to how your body feels during the day. Be extra attentive when you’re in conversation with people. You’ll quickly spot when you’re becoming defensive by feeling how your body reacts.

Once you notice that you’re reacting, you can then respond to it differently as opposed to letting it run unchecked. That’s the power of bringing awareness and attention to the moment as certain patterns repeat itself.

Once you notice that you’re reacting, you can then respond to it differently as opposed to letting it run unchecked. That’s the power of bringing awareness and attention to the moment as certain patterns repeat itself.

If you don’t notice it then you can’t change it. That’s unless your spouse points it out for you. If you’d like your partner to be a part of resolving the defensiveness, you can bring it up when you talk to him about your marriage.

It’s better to address it with the help of your partner rather than leaving it as is. Why? Because keeping triggering and hurtful behaviors generate unnecessary drama in your relationship. The key to a happy and healthy relationship is finding a harmonious, respectful and loving way to solve your problems. That’s why noticing when you stray away from love and compassion is one of the best ways to secure a long-lasting marriage.

What do you do once you’re aware of it? Read on to find out.


Stop Being Defensive Tip #2: Call It Out

Susan noticed her breath quickening as her chest rises and falls. Her husband just told her something that she completely disagrees with. ‘That’s it’ She thought all riled up and ready to interject and defend herself.

Her jaws clenched down tighter as she’s about to speak.

But this time, she caught herself. She noticed the signs and instead of letting herself go into defense-mode, she waited until her husband finished. Then she said ‘I’m feeling really defensive at the moment.’ Because of their previous conversations, her husband knew what this meant.

So instead of giving each other the cold shoulder and walking away hurt and disconnected, he asked her: ‘What did you hear in what I said?’

Just like Susan, you can call out your own behavior and let your partner know what’s happening. Why is this useful?

    1. You become a team with your spouse to address your reaction, rather than turning into enemies.
    2. You’re asking for help rather than letting the pattern play out again.
    3. Once you call it out, there’s no elephant in the room anymore. Your partner will be more understanding when you need a break to cool off.

Our destructive patterns thrive on unconsciousness. Bring them to the light of consciousness and they don’t have the same power anymore.– Jachym Jerie

Notice Susan’s husband’s reaction: he checked in with her rather than blaming her. That’s a great response to dealing with a defensive husband or wife. Why is that?

Because when you get defensive, you’re feeling attacked. Your spouse might be clumsy in their communication or you might be interpreting what they’re saying as an attack, when they really aren’t attacking you. 

When your spouse checks-in to see what you’ve heard, you get to clear up any misunderstandings that may have arisen. Even if you don’t do that immediately, having an open, safe and dependable time to reflect together is a powerful practice.

For example, Jachym and I hold regular relationship meetings once a week. Because we might not be present enough to notice what goes on at the moment, you still have the opportunity to clear up any issues or misunderstandings soon after. We don’t let problems and resentment build up over time. Because our love, connection and understanding are what’s most important to us. That’s the power of the Exceptional Relationship Formula.

Another reason to regularly call out unhelpful behavior is for you and your partner to feel heard instead of feeling ignored.

Relationship problems and differences don’t ruin marriage. Letting issues build up unnoticed and unaddressed is what breaks even the strongest love.- Natasha Koo

Stop Being Defensive Tip #3: Breath

If you’ve treated yourself to this free audio guide, then you have a solid understanding of the mind-body connection when it comes to defensiveness. (OPT-IN) Your body tenses up when you become defensive. What can you do to relax the tension? What tools can you use to process the stress and emotions so you can address the issue at hand with more clarity and calm?

Breathing can be a great technique to diffuse this tension. If you pay close attention to your breathing before and after you get defensive, you’ll notice that it becomes more constricted and shallow. When you breathe consciously, you allow your body to open to the tension. This works because you no longer resist the tension, giving it more space to dissolve.

Please make sure that you’re not trying to force the breath to make you relax, that can be counterproductive. You want to gently deepen the breath and let it slow down. If you can’t do this because you’re too caught up in the conversation, just ask for a quick break and allow yourself to refocus.

You’re not trying to get rid of your defensiveness or the tension in your body, you’re simply allowing your awareness to soften your reaction. This is crucial to stop the defensive pattern because you can become more responsive and intentional to what’s happening.

Most of the time we’re not responsive. With all the emotions, stress and drama, we  become reactive. Being reactive is a knee-jerk reaction, while responsiveness is a conscious decision to engage with something. It’s the first step to stop having the same fights with your partner

You now have a foundation of how to respond to defensiveness when it arises. Let’s dive deeper to address the issue at the core so that you can let this old and dysfunctional pattern go for good.


Stop Being Defensive Tip #4: Understand

Why are you getting defensive?

People get defensive because they feel attacked.- Jachym Jerie

The reason you’re getting defensive is because you’ve attached your identity into something that you’re not. Your husband tells you that he doesn’t like it when you don’t put the dishes away the way that he wants and you become defensive. Why?

He’s talking about a neutral activity: putting the dishes away. What are you believing that makes this into an event where you feel the need to defend yourself? Investigate this question for yourself to see what’s really happening within you. Why? Because it stops the recurring fights and the necessary apologies that follow. 

When Natasha started to edit my writing, I used to get very defensive. Why was that? Because I felt like I wasn’t good enough. But the truth is that my writing has nothing to do with my worth. It’s a skill that can get better or worse, but who I am is still the same. 

When I innocently tied my worth to my skill, every feedback was an attack on me. Do you see how identification leads to defensiveness?

How do you undo this identification? You investigate it. To do so, there’s a simple rule:

Whatever you’re aware of is not you.

Why is that? Because when the object disappears from your awareness, you’re still here. Therefore, you can’t be what you’re aware of. Now that this is clear, here comes the question that will help you untangle yourself: 

Who am I? 

Remember that if you’re aware of it, it’s not you because you’re still there after that thought or perception disappears. You’ll eventually find out that you can’t answer the question with your mind.

Everything the mind comes up with are thoughts. But thoughts are mental objects you’re aware of. So they’re not you. 

This exercise might be challenging at first because you’re bringing your mind to its limits.

You might feel that you don’t get it or that you’re doing it wrong. We can have this kind of response because we’re so habituated to put everything through the filter of our mind. Hang in there because it’s worth it. If you do persist, you’ll find a silence and stillness that’s always there. 

That is where you want to stay. The more deeply you investigate who you are and realize that all these thoughts, perceptions and sensations are transient and therefore not you, the more you become untangled from your misidentifications.

This is a very profound practice and we recommend that you really explore it. Go here if you’d like to read up more on this. 

What’s our final tip that can save your marriage from defensive and unpleasant conversations? Read on to find out.


Stop Being Defensive Tip #5: You’re Not Being Criticized

‘You’re just useless, lazy, and a pig! I can’t believe I married you.’ Sandra sneered. 

This sounds like a personal attack. But is it? 

Before we go any further, please be aware that we do not encourage nor endorse behaviors like the one above. We chose this example to demonstrate a point. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

What allows Sandra to criticize her husband George?

  1. She needs to be aware of her husband.
  2. She needs to have an idea of what her husband does.
  3. She needs to have an idea of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Let’s look at these factors a bit more closely. When Sandra is aware of George, she’s not actually seeing George and how he really is. Instead she’s seeing a mental representation that’s generated by her brain. But we often think that what we perceive IS what’s really out there. That’s not true.

So when Sandra is criticizing George, she’s criticizing her mental creation of George. 

Not only is Sandra experiencing a mental construct called ‘George,’ she’s also experiencing the internal representation of the actions he’s doing or not doing and whether they are right or wrong.

Do you see how the entire criticism is built upon thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts? The conclusion she comes to is a mental construction of several layers of thinking and interpretations

Why’s this important?

When you’re getting defensive, you’re reacting to your internally created reality.- Jachym Jerie

This can transform your relationship. Why? It can help you see through the illusion that’s making you defensive in the first place. The more you see through the mirage of your stories and mental constructions, the more you get to reclaim your freedom.

How does this apply to criticism?

When Sandra is attacking George, she’s reacting to her own mental construction of him and the story about his actions. It’s the same thing when you’re getting defensive. You believe that your partner is attacking you, but in reality they’re sharing their perceived reality of you. 

Your spouse isn’t talking about an objective you. They’re talking about their experience of you. These two things are not the same. But that doesn’t mean that what your partner is sharing is all invalid and you should ignore it. Quite the contrary.

You might get valuable insight about your partner’s world and yourself. Knowing that you’re not being attacked but rather listening to their reality changes the whole dynamic. You’re more able to listen to them with an open ear and heart.

It automatically makes you:

  • Curious about what they’re experiencing
  • Less defensive because you’re exploring their subject reality of you and what has happened
  • Open to hear their suggestions and objectively consider them

You might be wondering why anything your partner says could be valuable if they’re just telling you about their internal generated reality. Well, we’ve evolved to have good maps of reality and what your partner picks up on might be really useful to you. 

I’ve learned a lot from Natasha about how to run a household differently. My world has expanded thanks to her inputs. We miss out on so much when we insist on being right. Your defensiveness is hurting the relationship, it’s not enhancing it.

So far, you’ve learned: 

  • How to respond when defensiveness does arise.
  • How to uproot the behavior by investigating who you are and how your reality is being created.  
  • How your partner’s feedback has a lot to do with their internally generated reality. It’s not a personal attack on you, they’re reacting to their subjective reality.

Isn’t it great to know that you’re not helpless in your situation? No matter what kind of relationship you’ve shared with your spouse in the past, you now have the tools to change things around.

All five tips reduce defensiveness in your relationship work hand-in-hand. You can begin to notice before things spiral out of control. You can also invite your partner to work together in calling defensive behavior out.

What’s one thing you can implement straight away to get immediate results? Start using the breathing technique we described to calm down, defuse the situation and get into a more appropriate state where you can understand what is actually happening. Fact is, you’re not being criticized. There’s a lot going on mentally. The better we understand how our thinking works, the more skilled we are to diffuse even the most challenging conflicts within your marriage.

Remember, there isn’t anything wrong with you. We all have bad habits that we’ve picked up along the way but that doesn’t make you bad. The journey to an Exceptional Relationship can start off at a difficult point in your marriage.

No one wants to deal with the negative aspects of ourselves or our marriage. But if it’s a lasting future filled with love, respect and compassion that you want with your soul-mate, then it’s time that you commit to change.

For a happier you.

A more fulfilled you.

Take our tips and apply it to your life today.

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