You are probably aware if you have a defensive partner. A defensive person reacts badly to any perceived criticism. They feel the need to protect themselves for some reason. These reasons could be hiding something, such as an affair, or they suffer from childhood trauma. Either way, learning how to overcome their defensiveness is imperative for healthy communication in your relationship. We will go through some tips on communicating with a defensive partner.


How to Address Your Partner’s Defensiveness

Defensiveness is the third of Gottman’s Four Horsemen of Divorce. The other three are criticismcontempt, and stonewalling. Your partner is being defensive when they:

  • Snap easily when asked a question
  • Over-explain things to prove a point
  • Deny any or all involvement
  • Turn the topic around so you are the problem
  • Become argumentative
  • Needs to have the last word
  • Avoid talking to you (stonewalling)


The first thing you have to do is identify why your partner acts defensively. Please do not assume they are cheating on you or hiding something. Instead, is there a pattern to this behavior? For example, do they react this way when you bring up specific topics or people? Think about the situation objectively and how you might be contributing to this problem. Do you constantly criticize your partner without realizing it? You may have inadvertently conditioned them to act defensive when you ask seemingly innocent questions.


Next, you need to find ways to deal with this behavior. Finally, you must address the issue with your partner. Be direct, don’t confuse your point with other unrelated topics. After your partner is aware of the behavior pattern, make your communication more effective.

  • Make a safe space for a conversion
  • Don’t get defensive yourself
  • Do not pull away or give them the silent treatment
  • Keep an open mind
  • Do not criticize
  • Stay calm but assertive
  •  Agree to stop any behavior your partner says is contributing to the problem


Seek Help

Many of the above steps are easier said than done. Often, one person wants to work on a specific problem while the other does not. It can take time to get on the same page on your own. A couples counselor can help you reach the issue’s core without distraction. A counselor can help you work on your communication patterns and conflict resolution. Furthermore, your counselor may suggest one or both of you attend individual counseling. A lot of the time, unresolved trauma is in the background, silently eating away at relationships.



Communicating with a defensive partner can feel like you are getting nowhere. You want to address something, only for the conversation to melt down into a screaming match. So first, you must identify why your partner is being defensive. Is it about a specific topic or person? Is there some unresolved trauma at work? Then you need to work on effective communication patterns to get your point across. Changing the way you communicate can be challenging, however. If you need help, seek a couples counselor to help you with your conflict resolution and communication patterns. 

Family Strategies Counseling & Mediation is a therapy office serving the Chicagoland Area. We offer couples counseling and mental health services. Our therapists are skilled at working with those struggling to process traumatic events. Call our office at (708) 798-5433 or email us at for appointment details.


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