Relationship Minute: Practicing non-defensiveness

Responding and listening without getting defensive takes practice. It’s difficult! For so many, defensiveness is just a knee-jerk reaction rooted in the need to protect the idea of yourself as a “good person” with the right intentions. And it’s good to assume positive intent, especially when you’re interacting with your partner.

So it’s important to practice taking a step back and making sure you understand the situation before jumping to your own defense.

In the last Relationship Minute, we used this example:

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

So before you counterattack, respond with righteous indignation, or default to innocent victimhood, try taking a step back to assess.

I feel defensive because I did not remember to get toilet paper. Am I being criticized or am I perceiving this as an attack?
My partner isn’t criticizing me but I perceived an attack because I’m sensitive to the implication that I am lazy/forgetful/careless. Can I overlook that to keep this conversation on track? 

If you can’t overlook it, that’s fine, too. You could say, “I’m feeling defensive. I feel like you’re implying that I’m careless.” Then they can help clarify and together, you can get the dialogue back on track and the toilet paper back in stock.

Be patient with yourself as you practice. You may catch yourself reacting defensively often, but it’s catching yourself doing it that matters. If you note it soon enough, you could even ask your partner for a do-over.

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?”
“Who are you, my mother?! …Actually, can I try again?”
“Sure.”
“I forgot. I can get some tomorrow if we’re not down to our last square.”

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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.