Sometimes, no matter how nicely you tell your partner about a problem, your partner gets defensive.

Your partner’s defensiveness always has the same goal: to avoid taking any responsibility for a problem. Perhaps these common defensive reactions sound familiar:

  • Reversing. Your partner finds a way to blame you for the problem.
  • Stonewalling. Your partner avoids you or changes the subject.
  • Vexing. Your partner gets insulted or says you’re unreasonable or unfair.
  • Arguing. Your partner debates you on why you are wrong.

Countering Moves

Instead of getting upset when your partner gets defensive, try using a countering move. Countering moves are designed to keep the focus on the topic at hand. Here are some countering moves that work:

  • Repeating. (Being a broken record. Keep repeating your point calmly, over and over, as many times as needed for your partner to listen). “Yes, I hear you, but my point is___.” “Yes, but what I am saying is ___.”
  • Redirecting. (Pointing out the process, commenting on what is going on). “We’re getting off track again. Let’s not change the subject. What I am saying is ___.”
  • Validating. (Letting your partner know his or her views have merit). “That’s a good point. I could be more attentive. I’d like to hear about it another time. What I’m talking about now is ___.”
  • Refocusing. (Make an affirmation, nod your head, and quickly get back to your point). “Yes”, “Okay”, or “Maybe” and then “What I’m saying is ___.”

Before using a countering move, rehearse it mentally. It may take many attempts to get skillful at countering. Review your attempts to see where you got off track.


Showing admiration, appreciation, and empathy during arguments makes it easier for your partner to stay engaged. It reduces defensiveness. It’s hard to think of something good to say when you’re upset, but it’s worth the effort. Repairing can sound like this:

  • Admiring. “Ninety-nine percent of the time you’re very considerate. I know you care about me.”
  • Appreciating. “I’m grateful that you’re taking the time to listen. It means a lot to me.”
  • Empathizing. “I know this is hard for you. You’re sick of hearing about it, I’m sure.”

Taking a Time Out

If your partner starts to get upset, chances are you’re getting upset too. You might need a time out. It is usually unproductive to tell your partner he or she needs a time out. It is best to say you need one yourself. Taking a time out has three steps:

  • Announcing. (Announcing your feelings). “I’m starting to get too upset. I need a few minutes to calm down.”
  • Inviting. (Inviting your partner to talk again later). “Let’s talk more about this later. When is good for you?”
  • Approaching. (Approaching your partner to follow up). “We said we’d talk again after dinner. Is this a good time?”

If you use these techniques consistently, you should see changes in how your partner responds to you. However, sometimes patterns are so entrenched that change is difficult on your own. If so, we can help. It’s easy to learn good communication skills and repair your relationship while you solve your problems. Feel free to contact us for a free consultation, to learn about our services and see how counseling can help.

Return to Blog Menu


Call Us
Email Us
Contact Form