A Defensive Play


Last week, a friend of mine (SW) was speaking to a counselor. They were talking about defensiveness because this is one of the issues troubling SW’s marriage. The counselor told her that people only get defensive when they find some truth in what is being said to them. If the person believes what is said to be completely untrue, they will not react with defensive behavior. For instance, if someone called you a tree, you guffaw and move on, not wasting breath trying to talk the other person out of believing you are a tree, because you know with unassailable certainty that you are not a tree.

SW was explaining this over drinks last night. I asked, beaming, “If I understand this correctly then, the flip side is this: if I call Steve on something he did, and he defends himself, it’s just like he’s admitting that he agrees with me…perhaps not consciously, but somewhere deep down, he knows I’m right?” She beamed right back at me. “You got it.”

I mean it makes sense, right? Like Shakespeare said: The lady doth protest too much, methinks. But to have a psychologist say it in these terms. Wow! Well, it was gift from the heavens, I thought. One that I couldn’t wait to share with Steve!

Aside: Steve and I both admit to several “issues” that complicate and sidetrack our communication. A few of mine: I can be impatient, insecure, overly dramatic, and I talk a lot. Steve’s list is shorter, but he does get very defensive at times, and it drives me batty!

“Did you have fun with SW tonight?” Steve asked when I slipped into bed next to him.

“It was great. She told me something I found very interesting”…..and I explained. He got very quiet and lay very still. I waited…silence…and waited…and because I cannot keep my mouth shut (see Aside above!) even when it’s in my best interest, I said, “That means that, well, like when I bring something up with you that is, let’s say, something that you’re doing that I might have a problem with, and you start in with your defending thing, well, that means that really, somewhere deep down you….” He interrupted.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Pauline, I get it, I’m just thinking.” “And?” I urge (Impatience! Again, see Aside.)

“O.k. I think I’ve got this straight,” he said. “You can accuse me of anything under the sun, and if I attempt to defend myself, to tell you that you don’t have it right, then I’m basically proving your point….even if your point is way off base. Wrong, even.”

“But, honey, you know I don’t just go around willy, nilly accusing you of things that don’t have some basis in truth.” I explain

”Truth as you see it.” He’s sounding a bit defensive.

“Well…… yes. Exactly. And it goes both ways, you know. It applies to me if I’m defensive, too!”


Then, “You think you’re always right, don’t you?” He says out of nowhere, and a bit snappy, it seems to me. Uh-oh.

“What are you talking about? Of course I don’t think that. Why would you say that?” I sort of snap back.

“Pauline, you’re sounding a bit defensive, and I think that I do have some logical basis for that statement. You must agree with me. You’ve just proven my point. Thank you darling.” He smiled – I could feel it in his grasp.

I was silent.

“That’s not really how it works, I don’t think. I mean, you can’t just throw stuff out there as a test.”

“Still defending?” His smile grew. God!

I can play this game! “O.K. So I am usually right, you caught me. You’re right. I admit it. That is what I think” I was smiling now, too. “Now, uh, honey, please remember this next time we are having a discussion, and you start your evasive defensive maneuvering.”

But still holding me close. He’s thinking of a clever retort, I think.

“We better find a way to laugh about this, because it could get pretty frustrating.” He says as the good man he is – no snippy retort for him.

He’s brilliant. Have I ever said that?

“Well you could just concede right now that I’m right all the time.” I say because I’m not the person he is.

“I’m not laughing yet.” But his tone of voice belies this.

I start to come up with something funnier, snappier, and begin to speak, but soon found I couldn’t for a pair of lips in the way.

Ahhhhh……..this is where we never encounter any defensive actions. Nice.

Note: I don’t know if I wholeheartedly believe this “defensiveness” theory, to tell you the truth. You’ve got to have the freedom to defend yourself in earnest. And this theory just gives the accuser too much power. I think that Shakespeare was closer to the truth….it’s not just any defense that proves the accuser’s point, but it’s that vehement-no-way-not-me-non-nuanced kind of defense. You know it. We’ve all heard it a lot lately: politicians are experts. (i.e. Senator Craig)

Back to the story at hand….oh, yes, the lips. Yes! We didn’t stop there……but I guess I’ll stop here.

This concludes another view from my married life.