1. Take Inventory
"The first thing you need to do is look at why," Marina Sbrochi, IPPY award-winning author of Stop Looking for a Husband: Find the Love of Your Life tells Bustle. "Take the last defensive situation you found yourself in with your partner. Write down what went down — as it happened, no emotion. Now, take it line by line and see if you can find out what spurred the defensiveness. Has your partner made poor money decisions in the past and your talk was about money? Natural defensiveness comes up around that issue. You can then see if your comment triggered some defensiveness — and maybe be honest and see if your comment actually had a passive aggressive tone — or perhaps an underlying 'I don’t trust you with money' to it."
2. Check Yourself
"First, check yourself. Are you coming at your partner in a critical way or broaching issues with a harsh tone?" relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw tells Bustle. "If you are, then the natural response from the other party is to be defensive to protect from an attack, which is what it feels like. You may be setting the stage for a fight and not even realize you're doing it. When someone comes at you in a negative way, the natural response is to defend yourself."
3. If It's Hysterical, It's Historical
"If your partner is super defensive, this is usually the culmination of previous experience," psychologist Nicole Martinez, who is the author of eight books, including The Reality of Relationships, tells Bustle. "The best thing you can do is talk to them and try to understand what they are thinking and feeling, and why." They might have a past relationship that really hurt them, and some of those old patterns are still sticking out in their mind.
"If it is things that have nothing to do with you, that you have never done, you have to help them see you are an individual, and gently point out when they are reverting to old reactions," Martinez says. "This will help them view your relationship as unique, and to help them judge you based on what you have done in this relationship, as opposed to what someone may have done to them in the past." With a little work, you should be able to move past it.
4. Above All, Don't Accuse
"Start with communicating in a way that doesn't leave them defensive, and that means not accusing," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist, tells Bustle. "When possible, take ownership," she suggests, adding that "I" statements ("I feel," "I am") are useful here. "They can't really accuse you of not feeling a certain way," she says. "They may still remain defensive. Gently point it out and even offer an alternative."
For example, if you say, "I am so tired, it was a tough week," and they take this personally, responding, "That's not my fault, don't blame me," it's time to go another step, Durvasula says. "Dig deep into what ever energy you have left and say, 'I know it was not you, I was merely making a comment about my week — you were just fine,'" she advises. "Defensiveness is often a part of a projective style, which is seen in people who find it difficult to take responsibility, feel insecure, or may be fully narcissistic." Though it's hard to find a different way, if you're open to working together, it can happen. "It's not an easy style to change, and in many cases, couples therapy may be needed to reshape that rather frustrating and often damaging style," she says. Remain open and see what happens next.
5. Watch Your Words
"Defensive people are touchy people, unhealed people, or just hypersensitive ones," relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships, tells Bustle. "They tend to take everything personally, overreact, and they can be really big drama kings and queens." If your partner is this way, be careful. "The best way to deal with this kind of a partner is to watch your words: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't be mean about it," she says. "People will usually hear what you have to say if you avoid words that sound judgmental, critical, unkind or harsh."
6. Plan Ahead
"Approach is everything," Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. Never straight-up say, "You are doing this wrong," she says. That will only elicit defensiveness: "You probably are going to get a bad response," she says. "You need to have a discussion outside of the actual issue at hand. Ask how they want you to approach them when there is an issue. Both sides should explain how you communicate and fight, and hopefully you can use that information for the issues at hand." Next time a storm cloud approaches, you'll be better equipped to dispel it without tension.
7. Lay Down Your Weapon
"When a partner is defensive, it’s easy to put up your dukes and fight back — but that’s also the worst thing you can do to diffuse the problem," New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. "Instead, throw down your sword, so to speak." Be kind, above all.
"Tell your partner that they’re right, and you understand why they feel the way they do. Explain how you feel and what you’d like," she says. "This is a new way of breaking an old pattern in a relationship with a partner who makes the defensive position seem aggressive."
8. Get A Good Therapist
"One-sided relationships often have a defensive mode," zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle."They feel attacked, not good enough, and there is hurt under the anger and arguments," she says. "You can work on it by therapy and seeing if you are triggering something in them that is reminiscent of their past, which is often the case." Though you might be contributing to the problem, it's usually a combination, she says.
"As an FYI, you probably were attracted to this person to help yourself work out some issues that keep you from intimacy," Paiva adds. "Overall, defense is like 'de fence' — a wall. It's an intimacy blocker and the sooner you both own that it takes two, the better."
9. Let Your Partner Speak
"Usually this means you don’t give your partner a chance to communicate, so he or she has gotten defensive," Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. "Don’t rush if you want to help your partner open up. Give your partner plenty of time to put the words together and get them out." Though you might feel impatient, you have to go slow in a relationship.
"The three most important words in a relationship are, 'Tell me more,'” she reminds. "Ask interested questions. Don’t block whatever your partner says with a rebuttal. This is not a debate, it’s a conversation, and you want to hear what your partner wants to tell you." You'll get a lot further this way — and you'll be happier, too.
10. Remember It Really Might Be About You, At Least In Part
"Work on your delivery," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "Perhaps your tone or content can be tweaked a bit to come across softer." Though you might not think it's your problem, this issue usually is a two-way street kind of deal. "Remind your partner that you two are on the same team," Rogers says. "Defensiveness arises when one feels attacked and feels the need to protect themselves. Having calm conversations with soft deliveries and constant reminders of unity help dissolve defensiveness." Team relationship for the win!
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