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.