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I Didn't Do Anything Wrong & You're Not So Perfect Either!

Relationship Communication #2: Defensiveness

If you’re honest with yourself, you already know what defensiveness is. It’s where you block out criticism or blame by atta

cking, self-justification, etc.

  • It’s your fault…. It’s not a big deal so why harp on it…. What about you???? …. So what if I didn’t do what I promised, why can’t you just let it go….

You get the idea.

You want to protect yourself against criticism, rejection, blame, guilt and so on. And who wouldn’t?

But if you want an intimate relationship, you have to be willing to at least see the world (meaning you) for a moment through your partner’s eyes, even if you don’t agree; just see it. You have to be willing to allow your partner’s experience of you to matter.

And last time I checked, you’re probably not any more perfect than the rest of us.


e biggest barrier to accepting appropriate responsibility is thinking it’s a global condemnation. But it’s okay to have made a mistake; it doesn’t mean you’re bad. You are okay as a person, even if you forgot a commitment or made some other mistake.

Question: Did you call the pediatrician as we talked about?

Defensive Response: No, work is crazy, why can’t you just do it?

Non-defensive response: No, I got overwhelmed at work. I’m sorry, I think I promised something that I couldn’t follow through with. If I get swamped tomorrow, can I text you and ask for help?

Question: I can’t believe you came late to my mother’s birthday party. What’s wrong with you? (not great – but definitely realistic!)

Defensive Response: Jeez, leave me alone, no one even cared except you, everyone knows my job is nuts right now except for you.

Non-defensive response: I’m sorry I was late. I wish I could have been on time too. Even though I did my best to balance work and everything, I know that you felt short-changed. Can I tell you how stretched I feel right now and how no matter what I do, I seem to be letting someone down?

Do your best to listen to understand, not to reply. Try to catch yourself wanting to defend. Take a moment. Breathe. You don’t have to agree to your partner’s criticism and you’ll get your chance to be heard too. Just start by listening, examining yourself, allowing your partner to matter to you, and acknowledge where you could have done better.

If you change the steps, the dance will be different.

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