Can being defensive sabotage your relationship?

When we're newly in love, we try everything in our power to avoid conflict and diffuse situations. The honeymoon stage tends to be the easy, breezy part of a relationship (in most cases), but as a relationship matures and grows, this initial resilience fades away.


When the honeymoon stage fades, a once innocent comment may now start triggering past traumas. When we feel threatened by these challenging situations, it can be easy to become defensive, which will probably end up causing more harm than good if it persists. 

What defensiveness looks like

  • Dismissal “It’s not a big deal, stop talking about it.”
  • Deflecting “You’re being defensive, not me.”
  • Defensive rationale “The reason I was so snappy is because I had no sleep and had a stressful day at work.” 
  • Victimization “You always want something from me.”

Why do some people behave defensively?

Defensiveness is usually seen as a coping method, that is learned at an early age from ways we were treated, or as a way to protect ourselves.

What it feels like to be on the receiving end

We know what defensive behaviour looks like, but how does this feel like for the person taking the brunt of it? Well, those dealing with a defensive person often feel frustrated being misunderstood, unheard and unseen. The more often defensiveness strikes a person, the further away it pushes people. Defensiveness can impact relationships in many ways, or even worse, destroy a relationship all together. Here's how persistent defensive behaviour can even ruin relationships:   

5 ways defensive behaviour can ruin relationships 

    1. It doesn’t make you accountable for your actions 
    2. It can take away from listening becoming defensive affects your ability to listen, whether it’s cutting off a conversation, or thinking of your reply while the other person is speaking. This takes away from being able to listen and understand where the other person is coming from, and therefore miss the message this person is trying to give you.   
    3. It can perish your connection when a person feels unseen and unheard like they can’t get through to you, they will eventually stop trying.
    4. It can stunt the growth of your relationship some of the most important ways we can grow emotionally is by responding to the way people see us and our actions. Constantly being on the defense will slow the growth of these emotions and development into maturity, which therefore prevents your relationship from flourishing. 
    5. It can push you into isolation once people have had enough through repeated defensive behaviour they will eventually leave you alone and stop reaching out.

What to do instead of becoming defensive?

Be receptive and present in your relationships, listen to the person speak without instantly making an assumption in your head. Let them know you are being receptive and listening to them by saying something validating like “I hear you, you’re right I forgot to get groceries on my way home, but I promise will get them later tonight.” Verbal receptiveness can go a long way, although it may take some work. Start with less reactive responses, and more rational thinking, just try to see the other person’s side by putting yourself in their shoes. You don’t have to 100% agree with them, but even seeing a small percentage of their perspective and verbalizing that can be very impactful in improving relationships.

"There is never a reason to be defensive. If you are wrong you have no defense, if you are right you need no defense."

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