Relationships, Part 45: The Second Foul: Defensiveness


When you’re having a fight, you’ve got to put your dukes up, block his punches and attack when you can because the best defense is a good offense. But, when you are trying to have a constructive discussion, defensiveness, and a defensive offensive, is one of the worse things you can do. It’s the second of the fouls to look out for.

“Honey,” she says. “Did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight?”
If you’re going to be defensive, you might answer:

“Do you know how busy my day was? Why didn’t you just do it?”

Rather than:



If he says, “I’m worried about our spending. We only have so much money and every time you go to the store, you come home with twice as much as you went for. Do you really need a-hundred-and-forty-three pairs of shoes?”

Being defensive, you say:

“My spending! Did you ever look at your spending? How much beer did you go through last week?”

“I bring in more than half of our income. I should be able to spend it as I want.”

Rather than:

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know money was so tight. You know, since I started working so much and you started paying the bills, I got out of touch with how we’re doing, financially.”



When she says, “You’re a selfish lout! You never think of anyone but yourself!”

You say, “Well, you’re a nagging bitch and you have control issues!”

When you could say, “That’s defamation. A foul. Can we start over? Can you give me specific examples?”


To spot defensiveness, listen for someone concerned with finding blame, rather than solutions. Look for one posing as a victim and seeking sympathy, rather than rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.
A lot of times when you’re being defensive, you’re concerned that if your partner wins the argument, you lose. You’re attempting to testify to the truth, set things right, correct the record. You believe you’re the injured party here. You’re as mad as hell, you won’t take it anymore. You’d rather be right, than have a good relationship. You’d rather open up a hundred other problems than look at the one on the table.
Defensiveness is frequently a secondary foul; a response to another foul, often defamation precedes it. It’s a response to a rapid devolving conversation. Your character is being attacked, so you defend it. It’s only natural. Unfortunately, two wrongs do not make a right. If it did, we’d all be completely squared away by now.

The antidote to defensiveness is to take responsibility for something, anything, even if you don’t think the problem is primarily yours.

“Did I call Betty and Ralph? No, I’m sorry. I said I would, but I got busy and it slipped my mind.”

See, now you can call them, solve the problem at hand, and move on to other issues, like the fact that all day you’re too busy to call your friends.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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