Sonya Thomas lcsw

Defensiveness In Its Many Forms

According to John Gottman, Defensiveness in interpersonal relationships is considered to be one of the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Often, defensiveness is adopted in response to an actual or perceived criticism by ones partner.  Of note, criticism is also one of the 4 Horsemen.  While we cannot control how others express themselves to us, and they very well may need to work on converting criticism into a valid but respectfully delivered complaint or concern, we CAN control how we respond.  In fact, if we are interested in doing our part to create or maintain a healthy relationship, we must opt for something other than defensiveness.  Defensiveness takes several different forms.  Do you recognize yourself in any of the below?

Your partner asks is you remembered to empty the dishwasher, you respond with:

  • 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 emptying the dishwasher. You dirtied the dishes just as much as I did.”
  • 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, how can you expect me to remember every little thing?”

The key to catching your own defensiveness is to pay attention to when you are potentially misinterpreting a statement or question as an attack, and to also take responsibility for any part your played in your partner’s concerns, even if they are delivered inelegantly.  Just because your parter may have fallen victim to one of the horsemen, you do not have to respond in kind.

Until next time, peace.