Relationship Minute: Forms of defensiveness

Defensiveness is one of Gottman’s Four Horsemen. So what does a defensive response look like? Usually, it takes one of three forms: counterattack, righteous indignation, or innocent victimhood.

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” 

Counterattack: An escalation of conflict through scorekeeping.
“No, but you didn’t remember to take the garbage out last night so I guess we’re even.”

Righteous indignation: Impulsive, offended response to a perceived attack.
“I don’t see why I always have to be the one getting toilet paper. You use the bathroom just as much as I do.”

Innocent victimhood:Often disguised as whining, a rush to shame oneself and make the other person feel bad for the perceived attack. 
“I have so much going on right now and going to the store is so stressful, especially the toilet paper aisle! How can you expect me to remember?”

Of course, it’s much more difficult to respond non-defensively to criticism and there’s a difference between reacting defensively to a perceived attack and protecting your own boundaries.

The key to catching your own defensiveness is to pay attention to when you are potentially misinterpreting a statement or question as an attack.

Though the knee-jerk defensive response may be the same, there’s a world of difference between “Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” and “You forgot to get toilet paper at the store again, didn’t you? You’re so irresponsible.”

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.