Ending Blame and Defensiveness (How to Have the Shortest Argument ever)

“We always fight over the dumbest little things”

“I don’t even remember how it started”

Often, conflicts over something very small are then fuelled by blame and defensiveness and blow up into a full-blown argument. The original problem gets lost because we have added so many layers of blame and defensiveness that we are arguing about the way we argue, rather than what actually happened.

First, let’s be clear that really small things are not worth talking about at all, and we can learn to have compassion for our partner’s imperfection and let those little things go. This blog about sorting things into baskets can help you decide if something is worth bringing up.

Once you’ve decided to bring up an issue, how you do it is important. These are bad starters: “You always…”, “You never…” “I’m sick and tired of…” “Would you just stop…”. Approaching someone with blame and generalizations or telling them what to do (or not to do) invites defensiveness. When we feel attacked, it’s human instinct to defend ourselves. So, the first step to stopping defensiveness is to not blame.

1. Try a Preamble to reduce defensiveness:

“This is a small thing…”

“This is a 1 on the scale…”

“I’m not upset with you…”

“I don’t need you to do anything differently…”

“Please only hear me. You don’t need to respond…”

“I know it wasn’t your intention to come across this way…”

2. Deliver a short explanation of The Issue: The goal is to give information about how you respond to something your partner does. Make the delivery short and sweet.

I was embarrassed when you told that racial joke in front of Emma”

“When you keep forgetting to pick up my dry cleaning, I feel like what I want doesn’t matter.”

“When you aren’t ready and I want to leave I feel frustrated that I’m made to be late”

“When you roll your eyes and speak in that tone, I feel two years old”.

3. Try to END IT THERE! Expect no response. Leave. Give your partner time to absorb it. Get in the habit of ending the delivery right there so defensives can’t creep in. If they get defensive, try:

“I’m not sure you’re hearing me. Remember I don’t need you to feel badly…just to understand.”

4. The Time to EXPLAIN is LATER! Often, the urge to defend ourselves is simply us wanting our partner to know that our intent was not to hurt them. BUT there should be at least enough time in between the delivery and the explanation to assure the partner that they are understood. It’s certainly okay to reassure someone you had no ill intent. The problem is that if it happens too soon, it comes across as defensiveness.

Putting a space in between the delivery and the defense can help keep little things from blowing up into big ones.