“Why is he so defensive?”
That’s the question that brought you here, and it’s likely because you certainly can’t get the answers out of him.
Defensive behavior in marriage isn’t a death sentence for a relationship, but it will worsen if you don’t address it now.
Whether it came on suddenly or had been brewing, there are great ways to address the defensive behavior while strengthening your relationship for years to come.
What Does It Mean When a Guy Gets Defensive?
We see defensive behavior all the time but don’t always properly identify it. Looking at the root word of “defensive,” it means your guy is trying to “defend” something.
A deeper dive shows us he’s trying to protect something that needs defending.
Once you know what to look for, you’ll notice it in many ways, from frustrating sarcasm to fuming that your husband is dismissive of your feelings.
Once you know what triggers the defensive nature, you’ll be better armed to defend your relationship.
People develop defensive behaviors in childhood and as they adapt to different social, professional, and societal settings.
It can be a learned behavior connected to fight or flight responses, enabled behavior based on prior defensive behavior success rates, or incident-specific related to traumatic feelings like guilt and shame.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: 99% of the time, defensive behavior is not about shutting you out as a personal attack.
Why Does He Get Defensive and Angry When I Share My Feelings?
He’s too defensive, and you’re too sensitive. Does this dichotomy feel familiar?
Before you go on an emotional adventure, consider why he’s getting defensive or angry.
- Brain Functions: Many research studies have shown that men and women have the same brain, but the gender gap creates a different way that each gender’s brain reacts to emotions, chemicals, and hormones.
- Bad Timing: Men will have times when they are not open to emotional conversations, and their innate defensive behavior doesn’t always make it easy to read.
- Learned Behavior: If he feels like all you want to do is throw emotional darts at him, he will shut down or lash out to protect against it. A vicious cycle forms where you press harder, and he pushes back with more defensive behavior.
- It’s Too Common: Life has been pretty crazy these past few years, right? While you cling to emotional unloading for coping, he’s retreating to a safe space as unfixable anomalies circle like vultures. He’ll become more reactive to an onslaught of feelings.
- He Can’t Handle the Truth: Some emotional spaces are so risky in a man’s mind that it’s better to avoid going there than take baby steps into an emotional war zone.
He Gets Defensive When I Tell Him How I Feel: 15 Ways to Handle His Defensive Behavior
First, let go of any “I’m right, and he’s wrong” feelings you have while reading this article. That’s most important because we will talk about some uncomfortable spaces that could trigger your own defenses.
Also, stop expecting him to react exactly how you want him to react 100% of the time. Compromise is the key to making this work.
1. Stop Being Defensive
It might be the low-hanging fruit of this list, but you can set the tone for future emotional discussions by pinpointing your defense tactics. Find that trusted friend, or ask your mom what defenses you have.
You might be surprised how much you’re projecting, mirroring, or encouraging the behavior.
This is not a judgment against you. Everyone has their own set of defenses. You can also do a few therapy sessions to get feedback from a professional to see what defensive tactics you use.
2. Stop Making it Personal
One of the reasons women get so upset about defensive behavior in our beaus is because we feel that the emotional reaction is about us. If he’s quiet, he must be mad at us.
If he rolls his eyes when we share a feeling, he must think we are annoying. If he screams when we bring up his lack of affection in public, he must be embarrassed about us.
Women do this as a (wait for it) defense mechanism. We feel if we make it about us, then the solution is within our control. Take the blame out of the equation for a more productive discussion.
3. Flip the Script
Our internal voice feeds us much more negative and subjective information than our external voice.
To help plot your plan to break down defenses, role-play how you’d advise a friend who called you in tears, saying, “My boyfriend gets angry when I talk about my feelings!”
Why is this? Because we can see the full picture of someone else’s relationship, and we don’t have defenses up as we do in our own.
As a benefit, our learned relationship experiences shape this feedback, allowing us to face our defensive demons on a safer path.
4. Know the Signs
Our overly analytical brains are great at sorting data but might not always see patterns and trends. You first need to identify his defensive traits since it’s not always arm flailing, eye-rolling, and anger.
For example, is he not speaking because he wants to hear you out (positive) or shutting down inside to protect from these uncomfortable emotions (negative)?
More defensive tactics include:
- Overly explaining during arguments
- Blame shifting
- Apologizing just to “get it over with”
- Delaying the conversation (indefinitely)
Defensive habits can often mimic those used by narcissists. The distinguishing mark is only interested in self-gain and accolades, not solving problems for mutual benefit.
5. Time It Right
Use your perception skills to know when the right time is to talk. Let your desire to “talk about it NOW” be overridden by the desire to stop the problem.
If your boss greeted you at your cubicle every day, demanding to talk about what you did wrong, you’d dread coming to work, right?
You are in a much better head space when it’s time for a scheduled performance review to accept responsibility.
Use the same tactics on your guy. Like Goldilocks, you need to time it when it’s just right.
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6. Play a Game
A great way to break down emotional barriers and get your guy to talk about feelings is to play bonding games. Relationship games are trendy now, so this won’t be coming out of left field.
It’s a two-way conversation where you can ask deep-thought questions like “What is your biggest fear in our relationship?”
Once your relationship has set a better stage for open dialogue of feelings, you’ll both be better armed to handle spur-of-the-moment conversations.
7. Write it Down
This is a great strategy if you are prone to crying or losing your temper during a talk about feelings.
If you prepare note cards or talking points while in a calmer state of mind, you won’t lose track of your thoughts if you become emotional.
If your man’s defenses call you out on the note cards, simply say, “This helps me address specific concerns so you can be as comfortable as possible during this conversation.”
8. Take a Break
There’s something to the saying, “Never go to bed angry,” but it’s counterproductive if you’ll just end up fighting into the night.
Women might have every emotion readily available to express, but men sometimes need to digest the concern and revisit the conversation once they’ve processed the problem, their feelings about it, and how to solve it.
Even boxing matches have a time limit to keep fights from getting out of hand. You will likely need the break as much as he does.
9. Point it Out
When you finally have a moment where he’s open to emotional sharing, seize it. Much like you probably don’t realize all of your unproductive habits, he might not either.
Delicacy with words is critical during this step. Avoid phrases like “always” and “never.”
For example, don’t say, “You never listen to me when I’m venting about work,” turn the phase into, “I trust your opinion so much as a professional, and I feel like you minimize my job when you won’t listen to my own insecurities in the workplace.”
10. Lose the Scoreboard
You aren’t having a discussion for someone to win or lose. The second it becomes about winning, you both lose. This step takes self-awareness.
- Does one of you always need to have the last word?
- Is a discussion never over until someone apologizes?
- Do you both do the silent treatment until someone breaks?
Defenses will go up if your husband or boyfriend knows every argument will be a drawn-out battle. You don’t want to set a timer, but you also don’t want to go into overtime.
11. Choose Your Battles
There you are—staring at the unmowed lawn after reminding him three times to take care of it before the weekend storms. Now, another storm is brewing.
Is this worth a triggering conversation where he’ll list off all the reasons he’s been too busy to do it and then sarcastically offer, “Are you allergic to grass or something?”
While you shouldn’t avoid legitimate topics, you also don’t want to nitpick. Pay the neighbor’s son to mow the lawn and be done with it.
Instead of causing more defenses to pop up when he sees the task done, you can express how busy he has been, and this was a great solution for both of you.
12. Reward Good Behavior
It works with kids and dogs, so why not your man? Men have egos (albeit some that are inflated) that need boosting. Change the dialogue if you’re only having emotional conversation attempts about poor behavior.
Offer praise or physical contact when your hubby does something that could’ve led to a confrontation if left unchecked.
He’ll be more likely to avoid being defensive if he feels like he has a few victories under his belt. Do not attach expectations to that praise that he’ll do it over and over again.
The praise itself could just be enough to keep the pattern going.
13. Explain the Impact
Your partner might not need to know every feeling you experience, but he definitely needs to know how his behavior impacts you.
When a person gets defensive, their mind and nervous system are only focused on self-preservation.
Unless you are married to a narcissistic, which is a whole different level of emotional unpacking, your guy doesn’t mean to dismiss your feelings.
It is especially important to discuss this if his behavior triggers abuse or trauma from previous relationships. Your mental, emotional, and physical health can suffer.
Wording still matters here, such as saying, “I’m not sure if you realize this, but when you shut down on me, I can’t eat for days.” Isn’t that better than “You make me sick to my stomach”?
14. Lessen the Blow
All is not fair in love and emotional war, so don’t let defensive qualities escalate during an argument. If you say something hurtful out of anger that prompts his defensive outburst, admit it.
For example, “I should not have made that statement about your mother enabling you. I apologize.”
You should also use phrases that start with “I think/feel…” instead of you “You do this/that.” This slight shift focuses on your valid feelings instead of your interpretation of his feelings. “I feel panic when you raise your voice” works better than “You are always yelling at me.”
15. Know the Difference
There are defensive mechanisms, and then there is emotional abuse. If your husband is always defensive, and nothing can rein him in, it’s time to get professional help.
Even if he’s too defensive to seek help, you should go alone to help figure out if the relationship can be salvaged.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines emotional abuse this way, “Emotional abuse includes non-physical behaviors that are meant to control, isolate, or frighten you.” Help is always a phone call away at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Everyone has some level of defensive behavior. If we didn’t, it would be impossible for the human race to survive.
The key to a successful relationship is knowing each other’s defense habits and working to build a better version of yourselves as individuals and a couple.