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How would you feel if I told you something about yourself that you didn’t want to hear? Maybe it’s a complaint about something you said. Maybe I am angry or hurt about something you did. What would you do?

When this happens to me, I listen attentively and respond with appreciation for the feedback. If it’s appropriate, I try to own it, apologize and seek to make amends.

Ha ha, just kidding. I usually get a little, sometimes a lot, defensive. I try not to. I honestly strive for the ideal response. There’s just that part of me that says, “Shields up! Load torpedoes!”giphy

The thing is, defensiveness is really damaging to relationships. Dr. John Gottman has noted that it’s one of the four relationship killers. If you want to have a healthy thriving relationship, how do you get out of the defensiveness trap?

I found a short article from his group on Listening Without Getting Defensive. I recommend you check it out. Here are a few snippets…

“While it’s important for the speaker to complain without blame and state a positive need to prevent the listener from flooding or responding defensively, it’s also vital for the listener to learn to self-soothe.”

“Dr. Gottman suggests using a notepad to write down everything your partner says, which is especially helpful when you’re feeling defensive. This also helps you remember what was said when you reflect back what you hear or it’s your turn to speak.”

“During tough conversations it’s helpful to focus on your affection and respect for your partner.”


Remember to postpone your agenda and focus on understanding your partner.”

“Look inward and see what you are telling yourself about what this conflict means and how it may impact you.”

Ask yourself, Why am I getting defensive? What am I trying to protect? Your partner’s complaint is about their needs, not yours, so soothe your defensiveness so you can be there for them.”

“If your partner is saying something that is triggering, ask them to say it in a different way.”


“Long-lasting love requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable and to listen non-defensively, even in the heat of conflict. Especially when we are hurt and angry.”