When We’re Not Threatened, We’re Not Defensive

Last updated: Oct 13, 2022

“When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” Stephen Covey


If there is one area that every single couple can improve upon, it’s communication.

Almost every time we have something that we want to talk to our partners about, we enter into that conversation and set ourselves up for failure from the start.

Here’s how we unknowingly screw it up:

We have something we want our partner to know, so we begin from the perspective of what we want to say (ie: force upon them), rather than setting the stage for a real conversation (ie: an exchange between two people who are listening to better understand one another).

And since no one likes to be talked AT and told what you think they should do or not do…they automatically feel the need to be defensive.

Which means they cannot hear you.

So essentially everything you say is irrelevant and is not going to get you the result you desire.

And we do that again and again, assuming our partners don’t care about how we feel, so why even bother trying…



As human beings, most of us don’t walk around feeling like we need to defend ourselves 24×7. We don’t feel under constant attack.

But unfortunately, when it comes to having difficult conversations in our most intimate relationships, we often feel like we’re under attack (criticized, judged, belted, disrespected, etc.).

And human nature – when we’re feeling attacked – is to defend ourselves.

So when your partner gets defensive with you, rather than automatically jumping to the conclusion that he / she doesn’t care or doesn’t love you…instead, look at how you might have unknowingly put him on the defensive and change your approach.

  1. Instead of saying, “We need to talk,” say, “There’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately. I’d like to talk to you about it. When would be a good time?”
  2. Instead of diving into you TELLING your partner what you want them to hear, instead ask them how they feel about this topic and listen to better understand their perspective. Listen BEFORE you talk. Let them talk first and listen to understand. I promise you’ll gather more information that will help you when it’s your turn to share your perspective.
  3. Instead of instructing them how they should change and assuming they will automatically do so, remind yourself that no one changes just because that’s what you want. There has to be a benefit in it for them to want to change. So, what’s in it for them? For ex: If he spends 15 minutes connecting with you each morning before the madness of the day begins, you will help him feel more supported and appreciated.

When we’re being threatened / criticized / judged / belittled or disrespected, we will often defend ourselves.

When we’re not being threatened, we’re (typically) not defensive because it’s not necessary.

And when no one is defensive, we can hear and understand one another better.

And isn’t that the point?


PS: And before you say, “I tried that and it didn’t work.” If your last 100 interactions have made your partner feel like they are being threatened / criticized / judged in some way, it’s going to take you changing your behavior consistently at least 25 times before they put their armor down. People need to see consistency before they will trust that you actually want to have a conversation and that you care, too, about their perspective.

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