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5 Warning Signs of Defensiveness in Your Relationship

Love shouldn’t feel like a minefield, but navigating disagreements with your partner can sometimes feel like tiptoeing around hidden explosives. Defensiveness, that automatic shield we raise in response to perceived criticism, can quickly derail meaningful conversations and damage trust.

But how do you know when “healthy boundaries” have crossed over into harmful defensiveness?

Hi, I’m Alan Hickey, a Marriage & Family Therapist at Silver River Counseling, and in this article, I’ll share 5 warning signs of defensiveness and how to overcome them.



When faced with conflict, healthy communication should involve introspection and a willingness to acknowledge one’s own role in the situation. However, defensive partners often fall into the trap of blame-shifting, deflecting responsibility and pinning the problem entirely on their partner or external factors.

This can sound like,Well, if you didn’t leave your clothes everywhere, I wouldn’t have to pick up after you all the time!” when you express frustration about chores not being shared equally.

Or,You shouldn’t be so sensitive! Everyone else laughs at my jokes.” when you raise concerns about insensitive comments made by your partner.

This behavior, while seemingly protective, ultimately creates feelings of resentment, frustration, and disconnection, making it nearly impossible to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

If you find yourself constantly navigating a partner’s blame-shifting, remember that open and honest communication is key. Gently point out the behavior and its impact, and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions.


Immediate Denial

Healthy communication requires a willingness to listen openly and engage in dialogue, even when faced with challenging topics. Unfortunately, some individuals resort to instant denial, responding with a quick “No, I didn’t!” before their partner even finishes their sentence.

This can sound like,No, I don’t cancel all the time! You’re exaggerating!” when you express frustration about your partner frequently canceling plans at the last minute.

Or,They don’t mean it like that! You’re too sensitive!” when you raise concerns about a disrespectful tone their family uses towards you.

While seemingly harmless, this knee-jerk reaction acts as a shut-down button, hindering productive conversation and ultimately damaging the relationship.

If you find yourself constantly facing instant denial from your partner, remember that communication is a two-way street. Encourage them to listen openly and avoid shutting down conversations before they even begin.


Overuse of Sarcasm

Sarcasm can be humorous, but in delicate conversations, it’s a shield. When used defensively, sarcasm deflects responsibility for one’s actions or words.

This can sound like,Oh, come on, lighten up! I was just kidding!” when you express hurt over a comment your partner made.

Or,Yeah, right, like this hasn’t been addressed a million times already.” when you bring up a recurring issue that’s been bothering you.

This sarcastic dismissal minimizes the significance of your concerns and shuts down further discussion, leaving you feeling unheard and frustrated.

Remember, healthy communication requires empathy, respect, and a willingness to engage in honest dialogue. If you find yourself facing defensive sarcasm in your relationship, encourage your partner to communicate openly and directly.



Healthy conflict resolution requires staying focused on the issue at hand, openly discussing concerns, and working towards a solution together. Unfortunately, some individuals resort to deflection, a tactic where they divert attention from the current problem by introducing irrelevant topics or bringing up past successes.

This can sound like,Remember when I supported you through that tough time last year? You should be more grateful!” when you express concerns about your partner’s lack of support for your career goals.

Or,Budgeting reminds me of that time we went on that amazing vacation! Remember how much fun we had?” when you discuss a financial disagreement and propose a budget.

Bringing up a positive memory from the past does nothing to address the financial disagreement and adds confusion to the conversation, making it difficult to move forward.

Healthy communication requires staying focused on the issue at hand and working towards solutions together. If you find yourself facing deflection in your relationship, gently remind your partner to stay focused on the current problem and avoid introducing irrelevant topics.


Closed Off Body Language

Communication goes beyond spoken words. Our body language often conveys hidden emotions and intentions, and in the context of relationships, defensiveness can manifest through specific nonverbal cues.

This can look like physical barriers such as crossed arms, tightly clenched fists, or even lack of intense eye contact. It can also include agitated movements such as crossing legs, tapping feet or fingers, and playing with hair or other objects.

These cues should be interpreted within the context of the situation and your partner’s baseline behavior.

If you observe these signs, address them openly and non-judgmentally with your partner. Express your observations and how they make you feel, encouraging them to share their perspective and work towards a more open and comfortable communication style.


Recognizing these signs in yourself or your partner is a crucial step toward healthier communication. If these patterns feel all too familiar, click the link below this video to schedule an appointment today.

At Silver River Counseling, we specialize in helping individuals and couples overcome defensiveness, rebuild trust, and enhance intimacy in their relationships.



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