Overcoming Defensiveness in Marriage
An Example of Defensiveness in Marriage
My husband gave me a suggestion the other day as we were coming off a busy week and I was physically and mentally tired. Our house was a mess and I was stressed about finding the time and energy to take care of the house while also wrangling our two tiny tots all day.
After listening to me bemoan my circumstances, my husband said, “Why don’t you put off the house work today and just have some fun with the kids?”
Sounds innocent, right? Maybe if your husband said that to you, you’d be thrilled.
I, on the other hand, got extremely defensive.
“It’s not that easy. You don’t get to just stay home from work because you don’t feel up to it that day. There’s stuff that has to get done and you do it. Is my job as a mom and homemaker not as important as yours?”
His comment stung me and my reaction surprised him. He thought he was giving me permission to relax, but I felt like he was calling my role at home unimportant, like it could be easily set aside. It made me feel like the hard work I put in every day to raise our kids and keep our house clean and functioning was going unnoticed and unappreciated.
I had legitimate insecurity provoked by his comment. I could have simply explained that to him.
Defensiveness blinds us from seeing our own insecurities and instead causes us to cast blame and see our husbands as attackers.
We wives may feel defensive, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it control our reactions. Here are a few helpful ways to navigate through defensiveness and get to the real issue at hand.
Step 1: Notice your body’s reaction when you feel defensive.
This will help you realize when you’re getting defensive even if your mind doesn’t quite catch on.
Does your heart race? Does your neck stiffen? Do you get hot cheeks, a sweaty forehead, or the urge to fight? I’ve noticed I avoid eye contact and find it difficult to think straight when I feel defensive.
Step 2: Identify the real issue.
For me, the issue wasn’t that my husband wanted me to have a fun day with the kids and put off chores. The issue was that I thought he was dismissing the hard work I put into our family, which made me feel dispensable and unseen.
Defensive reactions arise when your insecurities are poked or you feel your identity is threatened.
Maybe you’re insecure about your weight right now, and when your husband suggests the family skips dessert tonight, all you can hear is him telling you you’re too big.
Maybe you’re insecure about your addiction to online shopping, and when your husband questions the credit card bill, you enter full-blown attack mode on him and start questioning his purchases to shift the blame.
When we’re defensive, we hear a different story than the one actually being told. That’s why identifying the real issue is vital to moving through the knee-jerk reaction and reaching harmony again.
Step 3: Own your part and communicate clearly.
It felt righteous for me to blame my husband for not appreciating me, but the reality is, he does appreciate me. I just couldn’t see past my anger and insecurity in the moment. I needed to take responsibility for my defensive response and let him off the hook.
“I’m sorry. I got defensive. I thought you didn’t appreciate everything I do around here, and it hurt me. I’m sorry I cast blame on you and spoke out of anger instead of love. Will you forgive me?”
It’s not always easy to think through these steps clearly in the heat of the moment.
When you learn to take ownership of your faults and wrongdoings, it sets a precedence of humility in your communication with one another.
Your husband probably gets defensive, too. When you notice it, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you both what the deeper issue might be so that you can move through it together.
The goal is to tear out the root of defensiveness so you don’t keep sprouting the same weeds over and over in your interactions. In time, you can both learn to overcome defensiveness with God’s help.
Wife Step: It takes practice and humility to go from defensiveness (reactive) to honesty (proactive). Next time you feel defensive, take a deep breath and walk through these three steps, asking the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom and gentleness.
Bailey Richardson is the wife of a Paul Bunyan look-a-like, the mama of a growing little family, and a woman on the wild adventure of pursuing Jesus. She lives in a small lake town in Minnesota where her family is highly involved in their local church and Young Life, a global non-profit youth ministry. A self-proclaimed “recovering perfectionist,” Bailey loves writing for and connecting with women who want to more deeply experience the grace, freedom, and abundance that comes from following Jesus. You can find her at baileymrichardson.com or on Instagram @baileymrichardson.