Another harmful communication pattern that John Gottman warns couples against is defensiveness. When people get defensive in a relationship they are putting blame on their partner. In a way the person is saying, “you are the problem, not me.” Defensiveness can also take the form of the “innocent victim.” this can sound like, “why are you picking on me? Don’t you see all the good I do? I can never please you.” Using defensiveness will only escalate and fuel an argument. This occurs because when you start getting defensive your partner will often use more contempt and criticism (Gottman & Silver, 2018).
The antidote for defensiveness is to take responsibility for your part in the situation. We all play a role in conflict, even if a small one. Healthy people in relationships don’t use defensiveness in conflict. As you start to take responsibility you will begin to work as a team with your partner, instead of working against each other (Gottman & Silver, 2018). When bringing up a particular problem with your partner it may be helpful to answer these two questions to yourself; What is my goal? And, what is the real problem underlying the conflict? As you do this and replace defensiveness with responsibility, then your conversations will be more productive.
Here are some more tools to help dissolve defensiveness:
Let go of being right
Change your physiology - take some deep slow breaths, do some jumping jacks, or give your partner an 8 second hug
See your spouse as your ally rather than your enemy
Pause and count to 10
Notice when the conversation is getting off track and gently guide it back to the original topic
Practice kind speech - both in your words and in tone
If you mess up and get defensive, repair, own it, and give a mindful apology
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the international bestselling relationship expert. Orion Spring.