How to Avoid Defensiveness

How to Avoid Defensiveness

The most exciting thing for me about the therapy process is that it acknowledges the human condition of imperfection. We are all human, and by being human, it means we come with flaws. By seeking therapy, you are acknowledging this human condition, while also seeking self-compassion and self-acceptance, but also having a desire to work on one’s self.

I recently saw an image that I loved; it had 4 different ways that a person can respond to a situation: Assertive, Passive Aggressive, Aggressive, and Passive.  Assertive means I win and you win. Passive Aggressive means that I lose and you lose. Aggressive means that I win and you lose. Passive is I lose and you win. I couldn’t help but continue to reflect on this image and think about the absolute truth of it.

When working with couples, I often help reframe how one says something in order for their partner to not become defensive - meaning I create the I win and you win. You might even hear me say, “you can fight like this at home… for a lot less money.” I say it in jest, but also in absolute truth. If the goal of your fighting is to win, then you are absolutely creating an I lose you lose situation because in marriage winning isn’t winning a fight. Instead, winning is showing love, compassion, and forgiveness even when you know you are right (news flash, no fight has ever been 100% the fault of one person). If your goal is to win a fight, you must realize you could also lose your marriage.

Many fights form at home, because a partner hears what the other says and meets the message with defensiveness. Many times, one partner is well-intended, but their message came across poorly. I have a simple exercise to help with this at home. The first exercise is to try and use a soft start-up through “I statements”. Instead of saying, “you never take out the trash!” Try, “I feel overwhelmed each week with all my responsibilities, including taking out the trash. Can you help with this?” Think about these two statements. They both have the same message, but you can see that they would have two different outcomes: The first would be I lose you lose, and the latter I win you win. The next exercise is to try and rephrase or reflect what the partner says back, instead of reacting. “I hear that you are feeling overwhelmed and need more support. Me taking out the trash would help provide that for you.” Now your partner feels heard and understood with their needs being met.

When communicating with your partner, don’t forget the goal is I win you win. Anything else really becomes we both lose. Forget winning arguments, forget being defensive, and start connecting at a deeper level. If you feel you need a bit of help from a down to earth, says it like it is therapist, give me a call.  

Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing counseling and diagnostic evaluations for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, evaluations, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting and read more about her services