Defensiveness sparked a 2 hour conflict with my wife last night…
It was a sadly typical scene.
Like many times before, she picked up on a critical, negative attitude I had toward one of the children, and she was boldly kind enough to talk to me about it.
I immediately began defending myself.
- I built a case to justify my behavior.
- I tried to convince her that she was seeing the situation all wrong.
- I accused her of being over-sensitive when it came to the kids (which is a terrible thing to say to a mother).
- I tried to turn it into an issue of “perceptions” instead of addressing the actual concerns she had.
- I tried to point out inconsistencies I saw in her reasoning (diversionary tactics).
And two hours later we sat on opposite ends of the bed looking at each other…
And it was all because of my defensiveness.
Defensiveness is as old as time and a very natural human reaction
Defensiveness was the first reaction Adam had when God asked him about what had gone wrong in the garden (Genesis 3:12).
It was Cain’s first response when asked about his “missing brother” (Genesis 4:9).
The Proverbs warn about defensiveness (Proverbs 28:26).
It’s almost as old as time, and seems to be one of Satan’s favorite tools.
And it’s been my most common reaction to criticism I’ve received from my wife, for almost 24 years of marriage.
And I hate it.
Defensiveness has been a pain in the side of my marriage for a very long time.
I don’t think my wife has a defensive bone in her body.
The problem with defensiveness in our marriage is and always has been with me.
Any time she talks to me about:
- How I relate to people,
- How I’m meeting/not meeting her needs,
- How I’m relating to the children,
- How my tone of voice and body language impacts people,
- Something I wrote on this blog,
- Something I recorded on the podcast,
I almost immediately get defensive.
And it’s a very shameful, destructive, unbecoming thing that will destroy my family… unless I do something about it.
What defensiveness does…
- It stops healthy communication almost immediately,
- It causes my wife and kids to become fearful of how I’m going to respond,
- It camoflages my insecurities behind inappropriate self-defined labels,
- It throws the unity my marriage relationship into a tailspin, which is not always easy to recover from,
- It blocks me from much-needed changes I need to make, in attitude and behavior,
- It puts a distance between me and my kids… which is the opposite of what I really want,
- It frustrates my wife to no end.
Does any of that sound familiar?
I’m on the very front-end of this journey into killing defensiveness.
But the marriage-long struggle has forced me to take a long, introspective look into my own soul so that the destructive cycle of defensiveness doesn’t continue to knock us for a loop.
I have discovered a few things that are beginning to make a difference.
#1: Admit that my initial response is often defensive – Like any other wrong that needs to be righted, if I can’t admit it exists, I’m unable to do anything about it.
#2: Admit that my defensiveness is destructive, and sinful – This is calling it what it is… seeing it from God’s perspective. When I can admit what HE thinks about it, then I’m in a place where true grief over my sin can begin to do it’s very good work (2 Corinthians 7:10).
#3: Get humble – Defensiveness is ultimately born out of pride, so the antidote is not to try harder or make resolutions (not yet, anyway). The cure is in humility, Christ-like humility (Philippians 2:3-5). It’s only then that I have any hope of receiving God’s help (James 4:6).
#4: Plead for God’s help – I can’t change my defensiveness all on my own. I know, I’ve tried. If change for the better is going to happen, I am going to have to have His help to accomplish it.
#5: Make a plan in keeping with my repentance & put it to work – Jesus told the Pharisees to prove their genuineness by doing actions that were consistent with their words (Matthew 3:8). It’s not enough for me to say “sorry” and move on. Something has to change, or else I’m not truly repentant.
And this is the danger-spot…
I could move ahead full steam, full of great intentions, devoid of any power but my own… which won’t get me very far.
I will have to abide in Him (John 15:5) and rely on His strength to help me overcome the destructive response-habits of defensiveness that I’ve built… because they are:
- very deeply rooted,
- almost invisible to me,
- things that come naturally (no matter how wrong),
- comfortable, and therefore seem “right,”
and are therefore impossible for me to find, attack, and destroy on my own.
I know, because I’ve tried to do that for the past 24 years… and the defensiveness is still here, bringing devastation every time it arises.
Wow – what a revealing and candid discussion. I agree completely with your assessments and see in myself the same struggle. In my case I think the reason I defend myself is primarily pride. It’s such a help to think about Jesus. He was the one person in history who would be justified in defending Himself and making claims that He was not to blame. But He kept silent. He saw us as we truly are – human beings who need a Savior. We must remember that we are “dust” and He sees all our weaknesses, but chooses to forgive and redeem.
I think for me, considering the truth about who and what I am helps me to accepts criticism better, because I really that it’s usually accurate (given how sinful and weak I am). How blessed we are to be married to women who love us and speak the truth for our benefit, and not out of anger (usually :).
donnelson – Yes, Jesus’ example is always the best, for sure. And knowing ourselves well is helpful as well. I often find myself thinking, “Why would I NOT think I was in the wrong? I’m a sinner, prone to misjudgments, possessing blind-spots… it would actually be pretty normal for me to miss something.” That helps me (at times) to get my head on straight.
One of the things that has helped my wife and me is when we give each other a little space in the middle of conflict. If we can just have 30 minutes or so to think through things alone, then I think we’re often better able to battle our own defensiveness and anger when we discuss things together.
Loren Pinilis – that’s a great idea Loren. I appreciate how you’re always quick to suggest other helpful things relating to the topics I post. Often you mention things I’ve never thought of. That’s what the body of Christ is supposed to do in service to one another! I think if both husband and wife did what you are suggesting, with a clear commitment to come back together to resolve things later, it would be a helpful thing to do! Thanks!
I know this is a post from a while ago, but it has been here for me this morning. I’m on the other side of this in that my husband is the one lovingly and bravely pointing out my defensiveness . Society says that women are always right and that mother knows best, yet I’m wrong a lot. I’m wrong about my husband’s thoughts, my children’s needs, my own needs and wants, as well as my household overall needs. I was raised by a mother who is never questioned by my dad, is praised by my dad, who muttered about my dad, and when she was wrong she would just make a sexiest joke about it(men can’t be wrong all the time). As I’m growing in motherhood (3 & 4 year old) ,I’m finding myself becoming more like her and my husband and I are arguing more about it. Now for the most painful part, I’m a pastor’s wife. I feel I should know better, I have been told by our congregants that I’m to be the example of Christian living for all women and mothers. I have asked them not to put that burden on me and that i struggle just like them, but they refuse to listen. I have no one but my husband to turn to with my struggles but he knows them already and gets frustrated with them as much as I do. You’re truthfulness about defensiveness has allowed me to see it in a different light. For what it truly is. ..sin. You’re ways on how overcome it has been communicated in a non threatening way that has opened my eyes and yet not shamed me to bring about my defensiveness. Thank you. I have a long way to go, but with you’re gentle reminder of what sin is and who can overcome it has truly been a heart opener. Thank you for sharing your struggle with this sin that society has deemed in some ways a positive character trait. God bless.
Kameron, I appreciate your encouragement but more, your honesty. You are a woman of God who is being conformed to the image of His Son. Bear with His gentle admonition and allow Him to do the shaping. I pray for you even now.