Is defensiveness killing your relationship?

Defensiveness is probably the biggest cause of “disagreements.” It’s an insidious little fucker who’ll drop into a conversation silently and try to disrupt any plans you had for a productive situation. If you let it stay around, it will accomplish its goal and probably make things worse for a long time after.

Luckily, you don’t have to concede defeat to that asshole. You can kick defensiveness’ ass. Although it’s pretty easy to learn how, be forewarned that it takes a lot of practice and understanding.

Everyone is kind of a defensive asshole because everyone is kind of a defensive asshole. I don’t know anyone who’s just an asshole because it’s Tuesday; usually, assholes have been hurt or just never matured their communication skills.

Being an asshole or a bully is just how we deal with being hurt; one might even say it’s a defensive measure to keep potential predators at bay. In reality, though, it’s just our way of making sure we don’t feel things we don’t want to feel.

We don’t like to feel bad about ourselves. We don’t want to feel guilty, lazy, poor, forgetful or hurt. We don’t like to admit to our faults to ourselves and, when others do it, we usually get defensive.

When people are being defensive, they’re essentially saying, “I’m incredibly insecure and don’t like people prodding at my soft innards.” They’re already stuffed to the brim with insecurities and damn sure don’t want anyone else piling new ones on.

Usually, no one is trying to pile on more insecurities but it can be hard to see that. Especially when people, in general, are super shitty communicators.

If you really listen to how most people speak, they’re just talking to talk. They’re going on autopilot – repeating words and phrases they’ve preprogramed for every social interaction.

Shit, it’s a lot of work to be constantly thinking about every word you say. So, autopilot helps us not go insane from the most mundane conversations. If we keep autopilot going during turbulence, though, your once smooth sailing plane is likely to fall out of the sky.

Most of us see defensiveness as truth then become defensive ourselves. In reality, though, defensiveness is just a few storm clouds we can punch through. Unfortunately, when we try to literally punch through – by yelling, denying or shifting blame – we tend to make things worse.

Take me and Bubby for example. The way our relationship works, I end up teaching and guiding him a lot. Initially, though he wanted it, he felt attacked whenever I gave him advice or a critique. For the record, he asked for this.

Instead of listening to what I had to say, he’d immediately put up his defenses and do or say one or all of the following:

  • Agree with me, do the thing and do it badly.
  • Agree, fully knowing he wouldn’t do it at all.
  • Disagree with me and tell me I was an asshole for suggesting it.
  • “Stop attacking me!”
  • “So, I have to do this but you don’t have to?”
  • Accuse me of doing things to him I’d never done.
  • Bring up my completely unrelated flaws.
  • Minimize my problem and maximize his issue with my statement.

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I’m sure some of that sounds uncomfortably familiar for many of you. Either you’ve said them or scowled as someone else hit you in the face with them. I scowled at first, too.

Like many of you in this situation, I was left feeling unheard, attacked and understandably did become defensive in response. It became a repeating cycle because I didn’t know what was happening.

Eventually I figured it out, and our talks became way more productive. Defensiveness is irrational, lumbering and sneaky, but if you know what defensiveness looks like, you can stop it.  

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