Defensive Listening

Defensive listening in marriage is very problematic.

Spouses should make it a priority to learn to calmly, fairly, and respectfully communicate in marriage without defensive listening happening.

What happens if defensive listening keeps happening

What happens is many many problems that could have easily been solved quickly become problems that linger on for months, years, and believe it or not, decades.

Please avoid this. Don’t make being a defensive listener a habit.

Instead of getting defensive, listen to understand, not to have a comeback. 

It seems really simple, right?

It isn’t.

Don’t be discouraged. Focus on the times you get it right instead of being discouraged the times you mess up. 

By now, maybe you’re asking yourself what defensive listening is. Throughout this article, you can see some defensive listening examples and maybe learn how to improve poor communication skills. 

Instead of giving you an impersonal, technical definition, how about I give you scenarios where one is being defensive while listening?

A friend of yours tells a joke and doesn’t have the intention of causing you to be defensive either directly or indirectly.

Yet, somehow or someway, you personalize it and make it about you in a negative way.

You feel insulted or like it was a personal attack.

defensive listening

If that situation happened to you, then you are guilty of listening defensively.

What was said or how it was said had nothing to do with your reaction.

You were simply defensive listening.

Here’s another example of defensive listening, or poor listening skills.

Your spouse tells you something that you have done wrong, and you take it as an attack on your entire character.

Instead of hearing your spouse make some innocent comments, in one area that you couldn’t possibly stand to improve in, you take your spouse’s criticism as an attack on your entire being. 

Here’s a thought, maybe sometimes, at least sometimes, criticism should be taken in a positive way.

How do you take criticism positively? Use criticism as a sign that points to ways you can improve yourself and become a better person.

That leads to much better results in your marriage than defensive listening does, trust me.

Here’s one more example of defensive listening.

Your boss mentions areas of improvement that would make you a better employee, and instead of taking that positive critique, you hear how horrible of an employee you are.

I can give you many other examples, but at the end of the day, the model of defensive listening is the same.

“Someone says something, and you don’t take what was said well. You take it as a personal attack or an insult.“

There are times when something is said, and it could have been said better. In those situations, one can understand why you would get defensive. However, for the sake of this article, we aren’t going to talk about those situations.

We are going to talk about situations where you are the one wrong and got defensive unfairly instead of simply trying to practice active listening.

What is Defensive Listening

Defensive listening can be defined (in my honest opinion) as someone negatively personalizing something that was said, or making it a perceived threat. Regardless of what was said, or how it was said, the point is, you (the hearer) take offense to it.

defensive listening

Defensive listening happens in many types of situations.

It is impossible to list them all. With that being said, for this article, I just want to focus on one context that defensive listening happens between spouses in a marriage.

By focusing on this context, we can get a better understanding of defensive listening and hopefully how to stop poorly listening and taking offense. (if you are the hearer)

Or, how to deal with your spouse who is constantly defensive. (if you are the talker)

Underlying Causes of Defensive Listening

I have said this before, and I will say it again, the underlying cause of many problems in relationships is… SIN!

The world likes to call sin imperfection. I believe it goes deeper than that, but we can interchange those words to keep it simple.

Sin isn’t a popular topic!

I don’t care though because it’s the truth.

Sin and the effects of sin cause many problems. It isn’t a place where people want to start to diagnose their problems.

However, I will not compromise what I believe to be the truth though. Especially for popularity.

“Real problems need real solutions. And we can’t expect real change unless we’re REAL about what needs to change.”

And what often really needs to change is the US. Defensive listening is a byproduct of sin, which then leads to our relationships, but more specifically, communication in our relationships.

Communication involves two parts, properly listening and properly talking.

Right now, we are specifically talking about when sin causes listening to ‘miss the mark’(one definition of sin) and go wrong.

See how simply and easily that flows?

That’s because it’s true.

Denying something simply means that you deny something.

It doesn’t make it false. (I can deny that I have water or food to survive, but that doesn’t make it true. That just means I denied it.)

The byproduct of sin? How?

Let me keep a deep concept simple. It’s Adam and Eve’s fault.

defensive listening
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

Yup, their fault. They disobeyed God, and all of humanity shares the consequences of that.

They were to first, to NOT do what God said to do.

And if you DON’T do what the designer of the world and everything in it has said to do in life, then you’re not following the design for your life, the life He gave you.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “You don’t swim on a stove.” The stove is meant to be cooked on, not swam on.

God designed us to communicate a certain way. And He left us instructions on how to do so for successful relationships.

One spouse corrects the other, and the other gets defensive in the context we’ll be talking about here.

“Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days..” Proverbs 19:20

defensive listening

If God’s Word is placed before our personal feelings or thoughts, we have a better chance of dealing with our imperfections.

Understanding that verse, and consistently applying the wisdom, leads to less offense when your spouse corrects you.

Is it only the fact that you’re being corrected that causes the problem? I don’t think so.

Example of Correction: Quickly imagine you’re driving down an unknown road, at night, and road construction is going on. You’re texting on your phone, and you don’t see that there is a fork in the road. To the left, the road is blocked off and is leading to an unfinished bridge. If you go to the left, on that unfinished bridge, you would eventually run out of the bridge and plummet into the sea.

The construction worker yells at you to get your attention since you are distracted, texting on your phone, and corrects you to go to the right, to the safe detour.

Would you be offended that the worker corrected you and saved your life? Probably not.

If anything, someone may still feel that the worker yelling at them was wrong regardless of the situation. *cough cough* “fool.”

What was the point of that example? To show that not all correction is bad.

And to show that poorly reacting to being corrected by your spouse isn’t always based on the fact that you’re getting corrected.

Let’s go beyond the correction.

“ One of our troubles is we are not willing to humble ourselves. We are not willing to give up our opinions as to how things should be done.”

– Mordecai Ham

Pride is the cause of many sins, many problems, and specifically many communication problems.

Pride will say, “They shouldn’t have talked to me like that.” When they said absolutely nothing wrong.

Pride will say, “I’m right, and you’re so wrong, I don’t have to hear your side.” That attitude leaves no opportunity for you to be wrong.

Related: Make a Difference in Marriage by Overcoming Barriers of Communication | Marriage sharing

Pride leads to defensive listening because you’re fixed on YOUR way of seeing things.

After all, your way of seeing things is “correct” right?

The thought never even occurs to most prideful people that their view is wrong, flawed, imperfect, or simply put, the cause of their defensive listening.

Or the cause of other communication problems.

We diagnosed the cause on a basic level, so what are some solutions? Here’s a list of TO-DO’s that I won’t provide context for.

You know your situation. See where these fit.

Stopping Defensive Listening

Apply these suggestions to your thoughts, emotions, conversations, and life:

  • Study scripture’s teachings on how we should speak, and how we should talk.
  • Listen twice as much in a conversation that involves you feeling offended.
  • Don’t be quick to say the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Understand that your feelings, regardless of how strong they are, maybe wrong.
  • Your logic can be wrong.
  • Stop assuming you are automatically right because…..
  • Trust the person is not just trying to offend you.
  • Silence is often better than your immediate reactions.
  • Have more than one person that you love and trust told you about this flaw? Yes? Consider it.
  • What are the positives you can take away?
  • If you are offended, go over three different respectful ways you can respond.
  • Everyone can’t always be out to get you.
  • Constructive criticism is great. Start emotionally believing that.
  • Learn to see every opportunity as an opportunity to better yourself.
  • Saying I’m wrong doesn’t make you weak.
  • If you feel offended by what you hear, as the person to rephrase it.
  • Saying, “I don’t like how you’re talking to me,” is okay sometimes.
  • Truly listening means you listen to understand, not to reply.
  • If you reply, without truly understanding, you are being defensive.
  • Looking for a fault in what is said, usually comes from a place of pride.
  • A wise person knows their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Unless someone drastically disrespects what you believe, relax, laugh, and live.
  • Not everyone sees things as you will. Give them a chance to understand.
  • You’re not perfect, neither are others, have Grace and understanding.

 In Conclusion

defensive listening
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This article primarily assumed that the person listening defensively was wrong, and the other person was right. Let me give you some quick tips when the defensive listener actually has a reason to be defensive. (I don’t mean a reason to be disrespectful, just a reason to at least feel defensive.) When the other person was rude, condescending, etc. In those situations, normally, a person feels justified in their retaliation regardless of being labeled a defensive listener. That conviction is wrong of course and leads to bad conversations and a toxic relationship.

So what do you?

1.) Stay calm. Think over what was done. Take yourself away from the situation if possible.

Maybe it isn’t possible to remove yourself from the situation, though right?

In that case, learn to control your tone, facial expression, and body language. Don’t make it controversial despite their lack of tact. Either you control you or they control you.

2.) Ask questions to understand. Not everyone will know what offends you.

Not everyone will see situations like you see situations.

Asking questions will help you understand why that person said what they said. Maybe they retaliated for something they thought you did wrong to them. The whole thing may be one whole misunderstanding.

3.) Change how you took what they said. A lot of the time, it isn’t what is said, it is how it is said. A lot of the time it isn’t how it is said, it is how you take it.

So, change how you take it. I have heard many clever techniques that people have recommended.

Picture the person offending you talking in a funny voice. Picture them looking like a cartoon. Find what works for you. I assume that people just don’t know me.

Because, although I know I am not perfect, God made me a pretty likable guy. If someone doesn’t like me, then there is something wrong with that person.

That’s how I have often viewed it. (with wisdom, of course. Sometimes I’m just not being likable at that moment for whatever reason.)

4.) Learn to understand that sometimes what someone says has nothing to do with you.

I know this isn’t easy because that person is directly talking to you at the moment, and you feel offended.

However, sometimes someone may be looking to take what they are going through on you because it’s convenient. It doesn’t make it right, but the fact that happens is true.

They may have been made at the person before you and wasn’t able to say what they wanted to say and, here you come. While they are still emotionally dealing with what just happened.

Understanding that this happens to us all, should lead you to be understanding with that one person.

5.) Learn to weigh the pros and cons of responding to that person.

Start asking yourself questions. Is this someone you are around and talk to regularly?

If it’s not, then why bother? Do you think something you say one time, in one instance, can deeply change the mindset they had that made them form those words to you?

In other words, sometimes the cause of their words comes from a flawed mindset. Mindsets usually don’t change instantly. If this is someone you don’t see regularly.

Is it worth the effort? Do you care about the person? If this is someone you have to constantly be around, and you care, then I understand your investment. Learn to be a better listener.

How do you deal with defensive listening?

Patiently. It takes time, and it often requires many steps. Start off by deeply understanding the cause of the defensiveness.

What is defensive listening examples?

A refusal to take any type of constructive criticism. Taking almost everything one says as a personal attack. Many forms of defensive listening include these habits.


Questions or Comments?

This is just a short list of things, for a very broad topic. Let me know your list below in the comments.

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