You feel frustrated and upset. You have tried to express your feelings to your partner but he goes on the defensive the moment you do.
You can’t help but feel your words are falling on deaf ears and that your partner is only concerned with himself and protecting his ego.
Healthy two-way communication is the ultimate goal in relationships, so how do you go about achieving it? How can you have productive dialogue with a partner who gets defensive whenever you tell him how you feel?
It’s often said that men aren’t as open about their feelings as women, but this is a generic statement that doesn’t have to apply. Men can be good at discussing emotions and emotional subjects – they just don’t always learn how to, and the same applies to some women.
If your man is emotionally unavailable and puts up emotional walls every time feelings are discussed, it can leave you feeling unheard and misunderstood. So how can you go about improving the situation so that you can bring emotions into things without getting stonewalled?
Here’s how you can get him to lower his guard during important discussions:
Get expert help dealing with a partner who gets defensive whenever you try to tell him how you feel. You may want to speak to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.
1. Start a conversation with something positive and calm him down.
How do you sound when you talk to him? If he thinks that you’re accusing him of something, it’s only natural that he’ll get defensive. Start the conversation on a positive note instead. You don’t have to immediately jump into a topic that you know might lead to raised emotions.
Talk about something positive that could reassure him and calm him down. Maybe you wanted to mention that his efforts to make your life easier haven’t gone unnoticed and are very much appreciated.
You should have this discussion in a relaxing environment and when you have enough time to chat. You’ll soon notice how differently he responds when he feels more positively about things.
2. Calmly call him out on being defensive.
Maybe every discussion about feelings turns into an argument, or he leaves the room. Perhaps you can’t even have an adult conversation with your man, and you have to walk on eggshells when you need to speak up for yourself. This is a problem, and you need to call him out on being defensive.
Make him aware that his behavior is damaging to the relationship and that you need to freely express yourselves to be a healthy couple. Let him know that, as long as he keeps his guard up, you can’t really connect with each other well enough to talk. Make him feel safe and comfortable to confide in you or at least to allow you to express your opinions without the fear of his reaction.
3. Explain why defensiveness is a problem.
It’s all about being able to settle arguments. Everyone fights, and you’re not going to stop. However, if he gets defensive during a serious and important conversation, the issue remains unresolved.
Explain to him that you are willing to hear his side of the story, but that, without talking about your feelings, you can’t overcome obstacles that stand in the way of being a happy couple. Defensiveness usually comes with denial, which prevents a person from even recognizing and acknowledging the problem, let alone solving it.
Explain to him that you don’t want him to feel attacked when you talk to him about the way you feel. You just want him to listen to you and tell you his side of the story. Only then will you communicate well enough to get to the bottom of the problem and calmly resolve it.
4. Let him know how you feel.
Calmly share your feelings with him and encourage him to share feedback. Talk about his defensiveness and the problems in your relationship without it sounding like it’s all his fault. Explain that you’re both involved in the problems and that defensiveness is just a certain type of behavior that stands in your way when you want to communicate and resolve the issues.
Keep in mind that you should always use more “I” statements than “You” statements. Talk about your own feelings that aren’t his fault. People often get defensive when they feel like they are being blamed for something, so make sure that it’s clear that you’re not pointing any fingers. You’re not accusing him of anything or attacking him, you’re just letting him know how you feel.
5. Ask him not to act out of impulse.
People usually react differently depending on the time they have to react. When someone acts out of impulse, it’s usually a negative reaction. Ask your partner to pause before continuing the conversation and agree to do the same. Don’t say the first things that come to mind, and breathe for a few seconds before responding.
Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Listen to how it sounds in your head before you let anyone else hear it aloud. Think things through.
Being defensive is only one of the ways people act out of impulse, so help your partner gain more control over his emotions by looking at the entire situation.
6. Explain that you need to have important conversations.
Let him know that you don’t enjoy these conversations either. You’d be much happier doing something else too. But if you keep shoving things under the rug, you’ll start walking on very rocky ground. Explain to him that you occasionally need to have important conversations, and it’s an essential part of your relationship.
Talking about feelings in a relationship is a part of bonding that should make him feel loved, not afraid. Even if he doesn’t like it, you will have to communicate your emotions to understand each other and progress in your relationship. This will require you to occasionally take a few steps back rather than taking a leap forward in an attempt to get to your destination quicker.
7. Don’t point fingers.
The most important part of dealing with a defensive person is not making them feel like it’s their fault. They hate being blamed for things, and this is often why they get defensive in the first place. They feel like you’re putting the blame on them. So, don’t point fingers and calmly say that you’re not blaming them for anything.
It takes two to tango, so you are more than happy to take some responsibility for how things are. However, when the milk gets spilled, it doesn’t matter who spilled it, you need to discuss how to clean it up together.
Notice the tone of your voice, and don’t get aggressive with your attitude or body language. You don’t have to use your words to make them feel like you’re blaming them for everything, so be mindful of how you behave.
8. Don’t care about being right.
Are you trying to resolve a problem or win a fight? Because there’s a big difference.
Don’t worry about being right or proving him wrong. Let him know that he shouldn’t do that either. The point is to come to an agreement, not to see who’s better at disagreeing.
You should both keep an open mind while you talk about your issues. It’s okay if you realize that you’ve changed your mind or if he admits you’re right, but this isn’t the aim of the conversation. You want to win together by resolving the problem, not win the battle separately and lose the entire war.
9. Reassure him of your love.
You don’t have to fight to work on your problems. You can do so lovingly, in each other’s arms. So reassure your partner of your love when you talk to him. Don’t make it a screaming match that you’ve been preparing for, and talk when you’re close to each other, both literally and metaphorically.
Let him know that you don’t want to end the relationship, you just want to find ways to improve its existing state, which is damaging for both of you. If he’s ready to open up to you, reassure him that you’re not going anywhere and that you’re there to listen to what he has to say. Let him know that’s how you’ll make this thing work.
10. Ask him to be vulnerable with you.
Being vulnerable with your partner strengthens your bond, deepens your relationship, and brings you closer together. Yet many people are afraid of showing their vulnerable side, and they get defensive when that’s what’s required of them.
Let him know that you want to see his vulnerable side and that it will only make you love him more, not see him differently. Encourage him to share his feelings and let them all pour out. Be there for him when he’s feeling vulnerable so he realizes it’s safe to open up to you.
11. Don’t make it a battle.
Are you fighting the problem or each other? Don’t turn your arguments into a battle just to see who is better at putting their points across. Instead, look at how you can resolve the issue together. Your partner will surely get defensive if you phrase how you feel as an attack on him.
Communicate your problems in a calm way when neither of you is under a lot of stress and talk through things instead of arguing. Be ready to lose a battle in order to win the war. As already mentioned, you don’t need to be right all the time, and it’s not about proving your point. Don’t get too caught up in the argument to forget what the real purpose of it was.
12. Communicate about emotions without getting emotional.
People often get defensive when they don’t know how to control their emotions. So, learn to communicate without getting emotional. Process your emotions before expressing them, and then talk things through when you’re not overwhelmed by feelings.
Validate your feelings, but also know that you need to keep them in check. A calm discussion could easily turn into a heated argument if someone gets angry, so be mindful of your tone.
Maybe your partner gets defensive to avoid these things. So, see if you can talk about your feelings without experiencing them, at least not at that moment.
13. Explain how his defensiveness prevents you from communicating properly.
When someone gets defensive, they create a wall that’s difficult to break through. This can make it almost impossible to understand each other.
You can’t really talk when he’s defensive, and you should explain that to him. If he does this regularly, it becomes a barrier to effective communication. When someone shuts down, you have no way of reaching them to push the conversation forward, and it makes it difficult to talk and resolve problems.
14. Choose a time when he feels comfortable communicating about it.
This type of conversation is not for when he’s already stressed out or overwhelmed by other areas of his life. He’s more likely to get defensive when he doesn’t have the time and the energy to deal with the issues you’re facing in your relationship.
So, choose a time when he is relaxed and feels comfortable communicating about it. Talking about his feelings during a fight or a heated argument is not something that you can easily achieve.
However, picking the right moment to start a discussion about certain things in a calm way can help you resolve your problems.
15. Ask him whether he feels heard and understood.
People get defensive when they feel misunderstood. So, show him that you’re really paying attention and truly listening when he opens up to you and talks about his feelings. Make him feel heard by repeating some of the things he says and validating his feelings.
Tell him to help you understand him better if he feels misunderstood, or ask how he expects to feel heard unless he speaks up about what’s bothering him. Remind him that you don’t want to start a fight, you just want to better understand each other and improve your relationship.
16. Talk about how he handles criticism or whether he is in denial.
It’s hard to talk to someone who can’t handle constructive criticism, but when your partner gets defensive, calm him down and remind him of it. Ask him to consider the possibility that he is in denial and if he’s putting a wall up because he is feeling attacked.
Talking about certain words he used, or aspects of his behavior, isn’t the same as accusing him of anything. Let him know that he should learn to hear and accept constructive criticism so that you can proceed with discussions. If he refuses to let his guard down, ask again whether he might be in denial.
17. Try to talk about the traumas that might be causing this behavior.
Defensive behavior often originates from past traumas. So some experiences your partner had as a child, a teenager, or even an adult, taught him to put his guard up and use defense mechanisms. Try talking to him about it and encourage him to dig deeper to get to the root of it.
This can be done with the help of a therapist, so encourage your partner to talk to someone about his past traumas. They should be taken seriously no matter how irrelevant they seem.
18. Explain the purpose of talking about feelings.
Communicating about the feelings you’re experiencing in the moment, or have experienced before, assists you in understanding each other on a deeper level. Help your partner understand this.
The purpose of talking about feelings is to get to know each other better, process those emotions, understand each other, and connect with each other on a deeper level. It’s a part of the intimacy that you should share as a couple, and it brings you closer together.
19. Try therapy.
There are many times when therapy can help improve or even save a relationship, but it can also help individuals face their inner struggles. Talking to a therapist can help your partner become less defensive and learn why he behaves that way in the first place. So, ask if he is open to the possibility of speaking to someone. Don’t force him into it, but gently encourage him to explore the benefits it may bring to him and your relationship.
However, you can also improve your communication and conflict-resolution skills by talking to a therapist together. Couples therapy translates the different languages that couples sometimes speak when they feel misunderstood. A neutral third party can also disarm a defensive partner and make them more willing to listen and speak.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
While you can try to work through this situation as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people – both couples and individuals – try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.
20. Have patience.
You should be aware that things aren’t going to change overnight. Have patience and give your partner time to change. Acknowledge and appreciate his efforts. Encourage him to dedicate time to personal development. Set an example by doing the same yourself.
With patience and persistence, you can both grow as a couple and as individuals. Just don’t expect quick changes, and know that practice makes perfect, so you’ll need to communicate a lot before you can communicate efficiently.
21. See if he’s becoming more emotionally available.
If your partner was closed off before, see if he is now opening up and becoming more emotionally available. Don’t scare him off by rushing him, and let him move at his own pace. Appreciate it when he shows you his vulnerable side, opens up, and lets his guard down, and make him feel comfortable doing this on a regular basis.
It should be normal in a romantic relationship, so help him understand that he doesn’t need to hold it all in to be the man of your dreams. Help him learn to communicate about his emotions and express his feelings.
22. Consider accepting it or ending the relationship.
In the end, if your problem doesn’t get resolved, you only have two options. Either you accept things the way they are or you move on to the next potential relationship. Getting defensive doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if it’s a part of your partner’s personality that you can no longer deal with, it’s okay to end things.
However, keep in mind that your partner might put effort into improving himself. So give it time and be patient before making a big decision like that. Talk to someone who can advise you on how to proceed from here.
You may also like:
- 5 Reasons Why Some People Get So Defensive
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