How do you deal with an overly defensive spouse? We all know that arguing with a spouse isn’t a good way to resolve differences. But what if you’re dealing with a spouse who is so defensive you might as well be speaking a foreign language? So here are 21 tips to keep in mind when approaching your defensive spouse.
Dealing with an overly defensive spouse can be a challenging and confusing experience. Here are some tips to help you resolve conflicts with an overly defensive spouse.
Why You Need To Address Defensiveness
Stress can cause emotions to run hot. This often leads to defensive behavior, which is toxic. Left alone, it will ultimately erode trust and respect in your relationship.
A healthy relationship is one where partners work together to resolve conflict and grow toward shared goals and dreams.
“We often hear of someone saying, ‘So you don’t trust me’ or ‘Are you questioning my integrity?’ or ‘You don’t believe me.’ They get defensive and angry because someone questions their actions, and they think they are above being questioned or having to prove their trustworthiness. But none of us is above questioning.”― Henry Cloud, Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t
It’s important to understand why your spouse is defensive. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but knowing why empowers you to respond to your spouses’ defensiveness in a positive way.
21 Tips for Dealing with Defensive Behaviors
If your spouse seems overly defensive and it causes concerns for your relationship, here are 21 practical tips to help you keep your life in balance.
1. Create a safe place for the conversation.
If you are going to bring up an issue with your spouse, do it in a place that is safe for him/her to talk with you. When he feels safe, most people can talk about just about anything. If it’s not a good time for your spouse to talk about it, be patient and wait till later.
2. Realize Conflict Can Lead To Greater Connection
I admit. A deeper connection is the result of handling difficult situations properly. You don’t automatically happen after a fight or disagreement.
If you disrespect one another, the connection is lost. You can only reconnect after conflict if you have mutual respect.
Both parties also have to desire connection. Connection demands both of you engage. Think about it. Connection implies you join two things together. You can’t connect something to nothing. There has to be two things to have a connection.
Your partnership in marriage gives you an opportunity to connect IF both parties are willing.
3. Don’t Pull Away From Your Spouse
It’s tempting to withdraw and pull away when conflict arises. Especially when your spouse is defensive. Avoid the temptation to abandon the relationship.
This doesn’t mean you can’t take time to think about issues. It’s important to recalibrate emotionally and mentally.
But this is different than pulling away emotionally. We often see this as a way to punish our spouse. That is not healthy, and will ultimately cause more problems.
4. Refuse to be Bitter. Don’t Resent Your Spouse
Forgiveness is one of the building blocks of a great marriage. If you live with someone for any length of time there is the possibility of conflict. After all, you both have a will. This often makes us ‘butt-heads’ over issues.
This is why forgiveness is important. Resentment happens when you allow little things to become big things.
For more details, check out our series on Forgiveness.
5. Don’t Allow Criticism To Become Your Language
When criticism becomes our default mode, we erode our relationship. No one wants to live in a situation where there they feel constantly criticized.When criticism becomes our default mode, we erode our relationship. No one wants to live in a situation where there they feel constantly criticized. from 21 Tips for Dealing with an Overly Defensive Spouse Click To Tweet
6. Understand the Difference in Discussion and Debate
Too often our attitude reduces conversations to debate. Debates set you up for failure. A debate implies you are on opposite sides. You are not.
Even though you might disagree, you are still on the same side. You are partners.
Partners discuss, but they don’t debate. A discussion implies you are working through issues to come to common ground.
A debate is a battle to see who wins.
A discussion is a process to see how you both can win.A debate is a battle to see who wins.A discussion is a process to see how you both can win. From 21 Tips for Dealing with an Overly Defensive Spouse Click To Tweet
7. Take Responsibility For Your Part
This is the foundation of effective conflict resolution. It can be your most important strategy in resolving conflicts.
Owning your part doesn’t mean you are guilty or wrong. It simply means you acknowledge that the issue exists and it’s up to you to deal with it.
Too often we point our finger at our spouse for every little thing that goes wrong in a conversation. If we do this, we turn our spouse into the ‘bad guy’.
This is a conflict resolution killer. If we blame, we lose. Someone has to take responsibility for the conflict and it might as well be both of you.
8. Understand Avoidance Is Not The Same As Resolution
Avoidance leads to unhappiness. We all want a happy marriage right? When you avoid issues, they don’t go away.
They create a lot of frustration and resentment over time. This leads to bitterness and disconnection with your spouse.
9. Don’t Leave Unfinished Business
In the book, ‘When Sorry Isn’t Enough‘ by Dr. Gary Chapman (Amazon Affiliate Link), he explains that when we avoid conflict, it actually increases over time. The longer we avoid conflict, the more it grows.
It becomes a plague on our marriage. It’s like a boil that never heals because you keep picking at it! This is what happens when we fail to resolve issues as soon as they occur.
We often avoid conflict because we’ve been conditioned to believe it has to be painful. Many of us have had our feelings hurt too many times and now approach conflict with fear and trepidation.
This emotional programming is very difficult to overcome! It takes time and practice – but if you see conflict resolution as positive, it will help change your perspective.
When you see the positive, you will look for opportunities to resolve issues rather than avoiding them again.
10. Practice the ‘Emotional Sequence’
This is the process by which we deal with conflict resolution. In this process, you are not only resolving a conflict, you are building a stronger emotional connection.
Acceptance of Responsibility – You recognize that each of you need to change your behavior to resolve conflicts. This step enables both of you to communicate freely and honestly without anger and accusations.
Acknowledging Feelings – You understand that feelings are never right or wrong, but they inevitably trigger responses in other people. When you understand this, you can avoid blaming each other and begin to listen to feelings.
Empathy – You see beyond your own feelings and feel what it must be like for the other person. In this way, you can understand the other person’s point of view and appreciate their experience, even if they don’t agree with yours.
Problem Solving – You use a logical approach to resolve conflicts rather than an emotional one. This takes effort but creates structure in problem-solving. It gives you a way to approach problems and creates predictability in your interactions.
11. Remember Conflict Resolution Takes Practice
Be patient with each other as you learn to resolve conflict. You will have ups and downs. You will make mistakes. And you will have some painful experiences. But if you stick with it, you can build a strong relationship with your spouse that is filled with love and joy!
You can use the Conflict Resolution Checklist to keep you on track. Use it as an opportunity to practice and get better at conflict resolution.
Listening well is extremely important in marriage conflict resolution. Rather than focusing on what you want to say, or how you want your spouse to change, try your best to focus on what they’re really saying. This will not only help you understand them better, it will also help you resolve the conflict.
Remember that learning to resolve conflict is much more than a set of tools. It is a change in lifestyle. It requires commitment and practice.
12. Maintain a Strong Support System
A strong support system can help you during the conflict resolution process.
It is usually best to seek support from trusted family and friends. If you are new to your faith, or if your current church environment may not be right for you, seek out a new church or a group in your community that can offer you support and understanding every week.
Consider joining an online marriage group or a class through your local community college. And consider professional counseling to help you through some very difficult times or to confirm that your approach is helpful and working.
13. Slow down
Learn to slow down when conflict arises.
When tempers flare, make sure you have time to cool off and talk about the issue rationally. Do not let yourself get dragged into a heated discussion that leads to further problems. Try to wait at least 24 hours after an incident before talking about it again.
This will give you time to cool off, and gather your thoughts so that you can talk about it calmly and rationally. It will also give your spouse some time to think about what happened, reflect on things, and come up with some solutions of their own.When tempers flare, make sure you have time to cool off and talk about the issue rationally. Do not let yourself get dragged into a heated discussion that leads to further problems Click To Tweet
Once you have calmed down and had some time to think about the problem, sit down with your spouse.
Any really good relationship counselor will tell you that the best way to solve problems is by brainstorming, in other words, throwing ideas out there without criticizing them or judging them. So that’s what we’re going to do here: throw ideas out on a sheet of paper and write them down. You should both take turns writing down ideas on how to solve the problem under discussion.
15. Finish The Conversation
Remember, it’s normal for couples to disagree and argue from time to time. But if you want your marriage to last a lifetime you need to be able to resolve those conflicts properly. Don’t finish the conversation until both of you agree on what resolution looks like for this conflict in particular.
Then, focus on the solution and try to follow through! Don’t let the problem just sit there waiting to come back up again.
16. Grow Spiritually Together
Having shared values is an important aspect of cultivating a healthy marriage. Creating goals together as a couple keeps you moving in the same direction. This builds unity and deeper connection.
Studies show that couples who share religious convictions and spiritual goals are happier than couples who don’t.
17. When You Don’t Agree, Disagree Wisely
My wife calls this, ‘Choosing your battles!’ Not everything is worth fighting over. Every time you argue with your spouse, you hurt your relationship a little bit. So make sure when you argue, it is something worth fighting for.
It boils down to this principle: If you want to build a good marriage you need to learn to disagree well! You have to learn how to handle disagreements constructively so that it doesn’t get ugly and lead both of you into the dark cave of divorce court.
If you want to get the most out of this article, I highly recommend that you check out the material at the end. There is a ton of great information there!
18. Discuss Problems As They Arise, Don’t Let Them Build Up
The longer you wait to deal with problems between the two of you, the bigger they become. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. The longer it rolls, the bigger and harder it gets. 19. Have A Solid Friendship
When you have a solid friendship, it is easier for you to forgive one another. It is easier to see the good in each other and to overlook the little things. If you start out your marriage with a strong friendship, you will have less problems down the road and can resolve those that do come up much more easily.
20. Give And Take Respectfully
One of the best ways to work through difficult issues is by giving each other respect and taking it graciously as well as giving it when deserved. This means that you can both disagree on how something should be done, but your disagreement should not be toxic or disrespectful towards one another or your differing views.
21. Don’t Get Stuck On The Past
No matter how many problems you have had in the past, you can’t dwell on them now. Moving forward and growing together as a couple means you have to leave the past in the past. If something is bothering you, bring it up now and resolve it now. Newer problems are always easier to solve than old ones that have been sitting around for a while!
Refuse to continually bring up the past. Let the past stay in the past. Once you deal with it, let it go. By continually bringing up the past, you send the signal (message) to your spouse that regardless of what is said now about the issue, you won’t leave it alone. This discourages them from working to resolve the issues as they come up.
Final Thoughts on Dealing with an Overly Defensive Spouse
Well, there you have it – 21 Proven Steps for Dealing with an Overly Defensive Spouse.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with conflict, but learning to deal with conflict well is crucial to a long-lasting and healthy marriage.
Your spouse will try to push your buttons, make you feel bad about yourself, make you doubt every decision that you make, so it can be a very difficult thing to do. I hope this article helps you learn how to deal with conflict in your marriage in a respectful and productive manner!
Pamela Madsen says: “A good marriage depends on us. We create our reality by the work we do in our relationships.”
Recap of what we covered in this article:
- 1. Create a safe place for the conversation.
- 2. Realize Conflict Can Lead To Greater Connection
- 3. Don’t Pull Away From Your Spouse
- 4. Refuse to be Bitter. Don’t Resent Your Spouse
- 5. Don’t Allow Criticism To Become Your Language
- 6. Understand the Difference in Discussion and Debate
- 7. Take Responsibility For Your Part
- 8. Understand Avoidance Is Not The Same As Resolution
- 9. Don’t Leave Unfinished Business
- 10. Practice the ‘Emotional Sequence’
- 11. Remember Conflict Resolution Takes Practice
- 12. Maintain a Strong Support System
- 13. Slow down
- 14. Problem-Solve
- 15. Finish The Conversation
- 16. Grow Spiritually Together
- 17. When You Don’t Agree, Disagree Wisely
- 18. Discuss Problems As They Arise, Don’t Let Them Build Up
- 20. Give And Take Respectfully
- 21. Don’t Get Stuck On The Past
To get more help creating the marriage you desire and deserve, check out these resources:
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