We were eating dinner the other night and my husband asked, “Did you do something different with the chicken this time?” My head flew around and I responded, “Why, do you not like it?” Now, he didn’t say that, did he? He simply asked a question and he could have asked because he liked the new flavor just as much as he could have not liked the flavor. I just assumed it was a negative question and, through my defensive reaction, I all but accused him of not liking my cooking. Happens . . . all . . . the . . . time.
I appreciated the section on defensiveness because I think that is something we all tend to fall into when it comes to communicating with our spouse. I am overly sensitive to things my husband says that would not affect me the same way as if someone else said them. For instance, a photo came on the computer screen (we have one of those photo slide show screen savers) of me in a bathing suit last summer when I was a few pounds lighter than I am now and my husband said “You really looked good last summer.” My response dripped with sarcasm as I said to him, “Oh, but I don’t look good anymore, huh?” He was trying to compliment me and I got defensive and turned it into a negative thing.
This goes both ways, of course. My husband gets just as defensive with me. It’s almost like we have this filter between us that turns benign comments into a lit fuse. We hear a negative twist on what our spouse is saying even when there is nothing negative intended. On page 142 of the book, Dr. Chapman addresses the way we should respond when defensiveness takes over and I’ve actually put some of this into practice (unfortunately, though, it’s usually after I’ve already let my defensive attitude direct my snippy remarks). For instance, after the bathing suit exchange I actually thought through these questions and determined that my defensiveness came from a place of disappointment in myself for not being as thin as I was last summer. My disappointment in myself led to my defensive response to my husband. So, in essence, it wasn’t him that was the problem, it’s really me. I promptly apologized for my defensive response and thanked him for the compliment.
I bet, when we each scroll through these questions on page 142, we will find that we have our own issues and insecurities we need to work through. Again, tough stuff when we truly look at ourselves in the mirror, but I do believe that the more we know ourselves, the better spouse we can be.
How do you handle defensive attitudes and behaviors in your marriage? What are some healthy practices you’ve put into place?