We continue our study of the four communication patterns that lead to the demise of a relationship, we
will be considering the third deadly communication pattern.
DEFENSIVENESS: Criticism and contempt often trigger a person to defend themselves against an attack.
People defend themselves when they feel attacked, they feel unjustly accused and may withdraw, act
like the innocent victim or counter with an attack of their own in hope that the person will back off.
Defensiveness is something that majority of people are guilty of doing. It is always present in
relationships that are in crisis.
Defensiveness is not effective because it gets the other person even angrier, it says to them; I don’t care
about you or what you think, I am not trying to understand you, I don’t believe in what we have
together. It doesn’t make the partner understand and stop the attacks.
Examples of defensiveness;
Question; ‘why didn’t you pick up my dry cleaning as you promised?’
Response; ‘I had a big client that talks so much and I could not leave the office on time to pick up the dry
The person being defensive is trying to protect themselves by saying something else cause the situation
is not their responsibility.
Instead, the partner could say; ‘am so sorry I forgot. I should have remembered that I had a meeting and
I should have sent my secretary to pick the dry cleaning or told you I would not be able to pick it today.’
this is taking responsibility.
Simply put, defensiveness is trying to stop a person from taking responsibility for what he/she has done.
Another example is when a husband who has just come back from work says to his wife, ‘isn’t dinner
Then the wife replies ‘I also work as you know, you always promise to help but never do’.
Instead of taking responsibility for not getting the dinner ready she tries to make her husband feel guilty
for not being considerate or even helping.
Everything the wife in this example may have said could be true but saying it at this time and in this way,
doesn’t get anything solved, it instead would make her husband angry and unwilling to help.
Another example is when a wife says ‘I have been waiting for you for twenty minutes and you are still
The husband just responds ‘I had to wait for you yesterday for more than half an hour when you were
late from work.’ He simply moved the focus back to his wife.
The rising tension cools if he responses; ‘sorry will be done before you know it’
Defensiveness is as unhealthy as criticism and it’s the hardest of the horsemen to get rid of because it
requires that the partner takes responsibility (no matter how little) for the problem at hand. This is
particularly difficult for persons with self-esteem challenges to do.
We will conclude this topic in the next article where we will consider the fourth and final deadly