Recognizing defensive behavior in your partner is crucial for fostering healthy communication in your relationship. A defensive person tends to react negatively to perceived criticism, often driven by a need to protect themselves, possibly due to hidden issues like an affair or unresolved childhood trauma. Overcoming defensiveness is vital for the well-being of your relationship, and we’ll explore effective ways to communicate with a defensive partner.


Addressing Your Partner’s Defensiveness

Defensiveness, identified as the third of Gottman’s Four Horsemen of Divorce, manifests in various ways:


  • Snapping easily when asked a question
  • Over-explaining to prove a point
  • Denying involvement
  • Shifting blame to make you the problem
  • Becoming argumentative
  • Insisting on having the last word
  • Avoiding communication (stonewalling)


To address defensiveness, first, understand the underlying reasons without jumping to conclusions like infidelity. Identify patterns in their behavior, considering whether specific topics trigger defensiveness. Reflect on your own communication style, ensuring you aren’t inadvertently contributing to the issue through constant criticism.


Dealing with Defensive Behavior

Once you understand the root cause, devise strategies to manage defensiveness. When addressing the issue with your partner:

  • Clearly identify the behavior pattern
  • Create a safe space for conversation
  • Avoid defensiveness on your part
  • Refrain from withdrawal or silent treatment
  • Maintain an open mind
  • Abstain from criticism
  • Stay calm but assertive
  • Agree to cease any behavior contributing to the problem


Seeking Professional Help

Implementing these steps can be challenging, and discrepancies in the willingness to address issues may arise. Seeking a couples counselor can provide a neutral ground to work on communication patterns and conflict resolution. Counselors may also recommend individual therapy to address underlying traumas affecting the relationship.



Communication with a defensive partner may seem like an uphill battle, with conversations escalating into conflicts. Identifying the root cause, such as specific triggers or unresolved trauma, is crucial. Working on effective communication patterns is challenging, and if needed, couples counseling can provide valuable assistance in resolving conflicts and improving communication.

For those in the Chicagoland Area, Family Strategies Counseling & Mediation offers couples counseling and mental health services. Our skilled therapists specialize in helping individuals navigate through traumatic events. Contact our office at (708) 798-5433 or email us at for appointment details.

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