In Part One we looked at how a complaint, even a valid complaint, can become an attack on your partner’s entire character by turning it into criticism. When people feel attacked, the typical reaction is to defend. The second horseman is defensiveness. Essentially, it is any attempt to protect oneself from a perceived attack.
In marriage, defensiveness deflects responsibility onto one’s partner. “I didn’t take the trash out because you forgot to remind me” or, “If you wouldn’t nag me, I wouldn’t get so angry” or, “You think I’m late all the time? You’re always late for everything!” Rather than something being my problem or our problem it’s your problem.
Defensiveness usually takes a victim stance. “I’m the innocent one here. YOU are the problem.” There is typically a whining tone that accompanies the excuse. In the old song Charlie Brown by The Coasters the boy that constantly gets in trouble says, “Why is everybody always picking on me?” Everyone is actually wondering when Charlie Brown is going to grow up and take school seriously.
Defensiveness is a reaction to a “perceived” attack. It may or may not be an actual attack, but it feels like one to the defensive person. Some people have difficulty accepting any sort of correction or complaint against them for various reasons. Some people deflect responsibility because they know that taking responsibility requires a change in their behavior. Change usually implies some sort of effort or prioritizing.
Defensiveness hurts relationships because it fuels the cycle of attacking each other rather than attacking the problem together. The antidote is to accept one’s role in the problem. Take responsibility for yourself and avoid blaming your mistakes or failures on others.