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How Defensive Are You?


Your partner is one of the people who know you best in the entire world. So, when he or she says something that you interpret as critical, you may become hurt and feel the need to protect yourself against that hurt. Protecting yourself can come in many forms but a very common but detrimental one is defensiveness. This quiz looks at whether you respond defensively when your partner brings up an issue. Try to truthfully recall your actual behavior, feelings, and thoughts just after an argument with your spouse.

Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions to learn whether or not you responded defensively to your partner in a recent argument.
  1. When my partner complained, I felt unfairly picked on.
  2. I felt misunderstood.
  3. I don’t feel that I get credit for all the positive things I do.
  4. What went wrong was actually not that much my responsibility.
  5. To avoid blame, I had to explain why and how the problem arose.
  6. I felt unfairly attacked when my partner was being negative.
  7. When my partner complained, I realized that I also had a set of complaints that needed to be heard.
  8. My partner’s negativity got too intense, too much, too out of proportion.
  9. My partner was too touchy, got feelings hurt too easily.
  10. There was some truth to my partner’s complaints, but it was not the whole truth.
  11. When my partner complained, I thought, “I am innocent of these charges”.
  12. When my partner complained, I felt that I had to ward-off these attacks.
  13. I felt obligated to deny the complaints against me that were inaccurate.
  14. When I listened to my partner’s complaints, I thought of complaints of my own that weren’t getting attention.
  15. My partner’s views of the problems were too self-centered.
  16. I thought, “What you say only bounces right off me".
  17. When my partner complained, I tried to think of ways to protect myself.
  18. When my partner complained, I thought of a way to re-explain my position.
  19. When my partner complained, I thought that if my position were really understood we wouldn’t have all these issues.
  20. It seems that all my partner can do is find fault with me.
  21. Sometimes it feels like my partner is coming at me with a baseball bat.
  22. During a hot argument, I keep thinking of ways to retaliate.
If you checked “yes” for seven or more items, then you are probably a good candidate for being defensive. Being defensive in a disagreement can only escalate the argument. Try taking a moment to breathe and consider the internal dialogue prompting the defensiveness. Communicate to your partner how you’re feeling to diffuse the cycle and begin to fight fair.

(Source: Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman, Ph.D)

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