ThisIsSoLonely, you said:
My WH also has defensiveness as a go-to when things get tough - his IC has told him that he should just say it out loud "I'm getting defensive because _____" - calling himself out has worked wonders on negating that reaction.
Thank you for sharing this. I'm going to try it the next time. I often just break into tears, which I hate.
To add to the context of this, just because it really HAS helped with communication, WH will now do one of a few things:
If he is really feeling defensive, he will simply say "I am feeling really defensive about [insert topic here] and I know it's not helpful. I am going to walk away for a few minutes to collect my thoughts..."
Or he will say he is feels defensive and explain why.
* the key is that if he takes a "time out" he does actually return lol - and that he tries to articulate why he is feeling defensive.
To use a LONG non-infidelity related example (that occurred last night) - WH is not the neatest housekeeper, and I am not either but compared to him I definitely am - so I find myself picking up after him (cups, glasses, paper towels on the coffee table, socks off the floor, etc) because it drives me crazy, and from time to time it is clear I am annoyed about it even if I do not say anything out loud (I tend to get quiet and just pick the stuff up and put it away and go outside with the dogs or something). I will also note just for context that we were at the house we used to live together in but it is no longer "my" house - I moved out and bought a place of my own.
Yesterday morning I woke up and the living room/kitchen was far from clean and I was not thrilled (IDK how one person can make such a mess in such a short time but I digress...) - he came out and I had already started picking stuff up and he made a comment to me about the mess, to which I replied "honestly, sometimes it feels like you do this on purpose, just to irritate me" and went about my business (the new and "improved post-infidelity me" takes less shit - but could also use some work in the communication department as I am not perfect either - although I have wondered if the mess is some sort of passive aggressive tactic - but I know it's not - he's just messy). He responded "No, why would you think that/". And my response was a short "Okay - good to know" - I was tired and just pissy that the countertop I had wiped down the night before was now covered in plates and two empty containers from the fridge. That comment upset WH, and he started to say something to me but stopped short., and said he was feeling defensive and needed to collect his thoughts. We went about our day but I could tell something was bothering him and awhile later he said he wanted to talk (this is new post-infidelity WH, who in the past would have just sat on that and added it to his list of resentments about me).
WH said my comment had upset him, and that in the moment he was feeling very defensive and his instinct was to go on attack right after I said it , but he had taken some time to cool down because: (1) he realized attacking was not going to resolve anything, and (2) because he was able to figure out why he felt so defensive, especially as there was no denying he had made the mess I was irritated about. He said he felt defensive as his perception is that I don't notice things he does and only see the mess/what he doesn't do. He pointed out that he had folded and put away the laundry off the couch that night also, in an attempt to do some of the things he knows I would like him to do (he frequently leaves clean laundry on the extra couch for days which drives me nuts so his doing it almost immediately was abnormal) but that I didn't notice that and instead focused on the dishes on the coffee table and that my saying I thought he did things on purpose to irritate felt like a slap in the face regarding the things he did do because he feels like he is trying - for me because he knows its important to me. This led to me saying that I don't feel like I need to verbally recognize everything he does that I like as that makes me feel like his mom - but that I admit I did not notice the laundry (or the boxes that were in the entryway were gone - he had broken them down and put in the recycling outside) because I just woke up, and because I was immediately focused on the negative of the cups/dishes, I did not notice he had done the other things. We then resolved to work on his not needing verbal validation for doing things that to me are just "things you do" and for me being more willing to ask him to do something instead of just doing it myself and being pissed about it.
My point is that we were able to resolve things in a much more productive way because: (1) WH was able to articulate he was feeling defensive, (2)that he needed space, to figure out why, (3) for my part I was willing to give him that space (in the past I would press immediately on that with mixed results), and (4) he DID actually come back to finish the discussion starting with the why he felt defensive.
This also worked on infidelity topics - and we had the most success if WH was able to articulate why he was feeling defensive, or admit that there was no real reason. Sometimes defensive was as simple as "I am feeling defensive because I know you want to talk about my negative behaviors (or how I hurt you or whatever) and I don't want to talk about them, but I know that it is important to you that we do, so I am going to try to put the defensiveness aside even though my gut reaction is to prepare for an attack and try to defend myself." I also tried to be better at explaining WHY I was asking something, which he says was also helpful in cutting back the defensiveness.
it's a process - but talking about defensiveness and recognizing why you are feeling defensive may help diffuse it. The conversation we had last night about the messy house was not pleasant and I'd like to say it was resolved in a few minutes, but the reality is it took about 30 minutes for us to get to the heart of the issues - but it's better than hold in all that defensiveness (and in my WH's case - anger)