How Do I Handle My Husband’s Defensiveness?

Good morning friends,

This is my 150th weekly blog. I can’t believe I’ve been writing these for three years. To celebrate you, I am going to give the first five (5) people who respond to this blog, a free copy of your choice of any book, CD or DVD in my current inventory. I want you to respond with some suggestions to help the person who is asking the question in this blog, “How can I respond to my husband’s defensiveness?”

So give her some suggestions, and then e-mail me at with your snail mail address and what book or CD or DVD you’d like. We will sign it and send it off to you as my thank you gift for being such a great community.

I am back home now after a week in Florida, refreshed and rested, ready to begin writing my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. This next year I will be focused on this topic, especially in this blog, and I’m looking forward to your feedback as I write.

If you have questions that you wish were answered in this new book, please send them to me at As I am able, I will answer some of them in this blog throughout the year so you will actually have a sneak preview of the book to come. Also, please forward this blog to anyone else who you think might benefit from having some practical and biblical answers to marriage’s most difficult dilemmas. We will be having some contests and free give-a-ways throughout the year to keep it interesting.

And just a few more newsy items:

My December newsletter will be out Tuesday and it’s on a lesson God showed me this past week, called The Gift of the Sand Dollar. You won’t want to miss it. If you haven’t signed up yet, go to my website home page and sign up. It’s not too late.

For those of you who are e-reader fans or will be receiving an E-Reader such as Kindle or Nook for Christmas, my current book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship will be offered at a special discounted price of $2.99 from 12/22 to 1/3 only. It will be available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony Readers.

In the new year, I will be doing some free webinars on various topics. The first one will be in January and will answer the question, Does God want me to be Happy? One of the things I’ve really recognized this year is that people struggle with issues about being happy. This is a huge challenge and I’ve decided to do something about it.

So e-mail me and let me know what struggles you are having that prevent you from being happy or experiencing the joy, peace and love God desires for you.

Today’s Question: Whenever I say or do anything, my husband’s immediate reaction is defensiveness. For example, on Sunday I did two loads of laundry, we went to church, when we got back we ate lunch and I did the noon dishes (washed them)…I went for a walk, came back, took the recycle bins out of the van, put them in the garage, moved a wheel barrow that was still in the yard from Friday, took the laundry off the line and came in the house…dishes still in the same spot and our utility room floor needed sweeping. So I went to my husband who was watching football – and I just mentioned this to him. “Do you know what would really turn me on and make me happy? If when I’m out for a walk or when I’m running errands for you to take care of some things for me…like doing the dishes or sweeping the floor…”

Instead of a kind response like, “Oh I’m sorry. Did you want me to do that for you?” His response was the following. “You KNEW I liked football when you married me…huff…why are you making such a big deal…nothing is ever good enough for you…”

This is how he responds to everything I say or do. I feel I can’t do or say anything right in our relationship without a negative, belittling, blaming response…

He knows that when he responds to me this way it just makes things worse, but he keeps doing it. I try to express how I feel, use “I statements”, and express to him what I need and would like, and he gets defensive every time.

What do you suggest short of hitting him over the head with a bat or getting a divorce–neither one are good options.

Answer: Before I even attempt to answer this, I want to invite you, my readers–both men and women–to chime in here and help this woman understand why her husband may be defensive and to give her other suggestions that will help their communication style. I’m sure she’s not alone in this merry-go-round, and so let’s put our collective wisdom together to help them break this cycle. Remember, the first five people who respond, receive their choice of a free book, CD or DVD.

First, let me say that most people (men and women) get defensive when they fear they are being criticized. Whether you are saying it nicely or not, you’re husband’s statements to you indicate that he feels you think he’s regularly letting you down and not measuring up to your expectations of a good husband.

As I’ve said many times in my writing, the only person you can change is you, so let’s begin by looking at what kinds of things you can do differently.

You wrote, “He knows that when he responds to me this way, it just makes things worse, but he keeps doing it. I try to express how I feel, use “I statements”, and express to him what I need and would like, and he gets defensive every time.”

You can start breaking the cycle by asking yourself what’s your part of making things worse? You said, “He keeps doing it,” but you didn’t mention what your part is of making things worse. So begin by examining whether or not your negative statements, your “I statements” about what you’re unhappy about with him outweigh your positive statements to him. In any relationship when our negative statements are more frequent than our positive statements, it deteriorates.

Sometimes we believe that if we use “I statements”, they should always be taken positively. Let me give you a few examples of “I statements” and “you statements” that both sound critical, or like “you’re not good enough.”

For example, “I’m so tired of doing everything myself” verses “You never help me around the house.” Both statements are critical, one is a more direct attack; the other more implied.

A more positive “I statement” is, “I’d really like you to help me today get the house straightened up. When would be a good time, because I know you like football.”

Here’s another example: “I feel hurt that you never finished cleaning the bathroom like you said you would” verses “You’re so irresponsible, you never finish anything you start.” Again, both are critical.

A more positive “I statement” would be, “I’d really like you to finish cleaning up the bathroom today. Is that going to be a problem?”

Second, when your husband reacts defensively to one of your comments, how do you make it worse? Are you overly emotional? Do you give him the silent treatment? Is there an endless argument? Is the rest of the day/evening ruined?

In your e-mail to me, you implied a few times that your husband feels you’re overreacting to things. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but ask yourself are your expectations realistic? In other words, it may not be unreasonable for you to wish or hope that your husband would jump up while you were out on a walk and notice what needs to be done around the house and do it for you while you were away, or even to apologize to you when you call him on it, but is it realistic to expect that knowing who your husband is? Perhaps you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and for him to fail you when you expect him to do things that he’s probably not going to do at least without you directly asking and perhaps even reminding him to do it.

Third, it seems like you’ve lost sight (as he has) of the bigger picture at stake. The problem is no longer whether or not he helps you or finishes the chores he says he’ll do and then doesn’t. The problem is that you can’t talk together in a way that feels good for him and good for you. Does that mean that you just keep quiet and accept that you will do 90% of the work while he watches football? Or that you divorce?

I hope not, but I think you might try to talk with him in an adult to adult way about how you can’t talk together about things without him getting defensive and you getting sad, critical, or angry. Describe what happens between the two of you when he finally says to you, “I should just leave.”

I wonder what would happen if you changed two things in your approach to your husband. First, instead of talking about his defensiveness or lack of follow-through or lack of help, ask him what he means when he says, “nothing is ever good enough for you.” You say this is his standard response, but instead of getting defensive yourself, what would happen if you stopped and said, “What do you mean? How do I tell you nothing is good enough?” And then just listen to what he says.

Second, I wonder what would happen if you didn’t do it all yourself, but instead made every effort to look for the positive things your husband does do and share that for a while, leaving off the negative comments. See if his mood toward you changes and his defensiveness lessens. If it does, then understand you may be part of the problem. If it doesn’t, then you may need to take other measures to talk about the health of your relationship and what it means that you can’t have a normal conversation without some sort of put down, or belittling remark.

Most of the men that I’ve talked with throughout the years in counseling are not monsters who don’t care about their wives and only want to live selfishly and self-centeredly. I’ve found most of them deeply want to make their wives happy and proud of them, but never quite know how to do it. As soon as they think they’ve succeeded in one area, the rules change and now there’s another area that they need to change or do better. Over time when this cycle continues, they begin to feel hopeless, like I will never make her happy or proud of me and they begin to get cynical, resentful and bitter.

Please hear me, I’m not saying you are to blame you for your husband’s defensiveness. As human beings we ARE defensive. But when we feel unsafe and attacked, it usually gets worse. So if you don’t want to hit your husband over the head with a baseball bat and you don’t want to divorce him, you must try a new approach. Don’t do everything yourself, but instead try encouraging him in the things he does right. That may motivate him to do those kinds of things more often. Give it some time and see what happens.


  1. 1Hvnly1 on December 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    First, I absolutely agree with Leslie. Proverbs 16:24 (NASB)
    Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

    I need to think before I speak and not speak when I'm feeling frustrated. It's just too easy to say the wrong thing when I'm frustrated. A sister in the Lord once told me to envision a label across the forehead of my spouse (or whoever) "NOT THE ENEMY". Truth is, satan uses our weaknesses and one of my weaknesses has been in spewing thoughtless words.

    My husband responds really well when he's feeling respected and my interaction with him has been respectful. (Even if his actions or words aren't what we might consider "deserving".) We are called to be peacemakers. So I have to ask myself, "What is going to produce peace in the situation?" For me it's about setting the stage and timing. The outcome is always better when I remain self-controlled and calm.

    I'm not saying that I don't address serious issues or problems, but I need to take my petition to the Lord first in prayer, then at when I am calm and my heart is right, express my concern gently. My husband tends to be far less defensive and willing to work with me. I think we as women have more control than we realize when it comes to turning a potentially tense situation into a peaceful and positive one!

  2. trulyluvd on December 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I agree with what's been posted. I would only add (or emphasize) true humility. That you (or I) wouldn't be opposed to speaking directly to the need, and doing that with grace and truth.

    My husband's perception of household needs is very different from my own. Sometimes better, sometimes not. I remember a time when an empty cereal box was left out by the kitchen sink for three days! I was tired and cranky the evening of the third day, and I snapped out, "And who did you think was going to dispose of this box?" From my husband's point of view, we'd started a new recycling practice, and he thought he was helping. (honestly!) What was called for was a sincere question about why the box was sitting there in the first place.

    If it feels like things are not being done, we talk about it. We treat each other with respect. We tend to assume that the other person is a responsible adult – because he (or she) is.

    If that's not happening, there is something underneath it. Somehow, we've gotten away from the idea that we are each married to someone we like, and respect, and love, and cherish. Like Hvnly1 said, he's "not the enemy."

    If I need my husband to take out the trash, I ask him to. I don't demand it, and he doesn't shirk it. I don't like scrubbing the tub. I've asked my husband to do that chore. If it doesn't get done, I simply ask, "Hey, will you get a chance to do the tub this weekend?" I'm not accusing him of neglect. Just reminding him that it needs to be done.

    Leslie, thank you for your ministry!

  3. Anonymous on December 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    this blog is what I needed. Thanks great wisdom

  4. Barb Allen on December 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I cannot wait to read this blog about husband's defensiveness in it's entirety! I came to this site today because i am reading The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and struggling through just that. Just had a conversation with hubby an hour ago that did NOT go well. Thank you for this book, this blog and all you are doing to bring light and truth to my present darkness.

  5. on December 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    This sounds exactly like something my husband would say!

    I've found that it's helpful to remeber that your husband can't read your mind and that if you want him to do something it's always best to ask. (And keep in mindthat his answer to your request may be "No.)

    Hope I made it in as 5th comment for the freebie!

  6. Barb Allen on December 12, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    And now after having read it, I can say that I totally agree with Leslie's advice. It's so hard to do when you have been giving and giving and giving and feeling little or nothing in return, but truly no matter what we have given, there is more self-examination we can do and find a way to tweak our approach. I will be applying these two new approaches to my own life and marriage, and I hope to see it make a difference. I love my man so much and I am so tired of animosity and hurt preventing us from enjoying one another! Thanks, Leslie, for this awesome blog today – on the exact day I needed it!!

  7. Anonymous on December 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    First, I can empathize with the writer as football is evil, and men tend to get moody during football season or any sport. Did you know more women are abused during Football Season? Did you know Football Season is a contributor to ungodly sins in our country? Secondly, the husband is the leader of the home, & the wife is the helper. Men need to man up, and own their territories & quit throwing them out to their women to handle. Personally, I hate that we as wives always have to tweak our approach, yet we are the 'responder' in the marriage. Treat your wife like a queen & meet her needs & I bet you will get a different wife in return. Quit making football,etc. the priority in families. Many families today are consumed with the fight between tv, sports, video games, etc.
    Here's my advice, it was a Sunday, did you go to church? Did you have a Sabbath? Are you taking care of your own needs? Bathing, girlfriend time out, bible study or worship? Fill yourself with God first. You as a woman will always be concerned about your relationship more than your hubby will, but God cares about it even more. Pray about it. Pray for him. Plan some time for you two once or twice a week. Too many marriages go into isolation. Marriages take work. It's a crying shame when all men can do is talk to their laptops, cellphones, and TVs instead of their wives or families. It's no wonder wives go looking for love in the wrong places.

  8. Anonymous on December 12, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I have a problem with "What time is good for you…" in the "I statements." It isn't asking for help but assuming. When people do that to me, I feel like they don't respect me enough to let me decide what I will or won't do. I volunteer for plenty of things, but really dislike being volunteered for anything.

  9. Anonymous on December 12, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    It also seems ridiculous to want a freebie at the cost of someone's marital issues!! The money changers were thrown out for a reason.

  10. Leslie on December 13, 2011 at 2:21 am

    To Anonymous #2

    In her question to me she referred to an agreement that she and her husband already made concerning things that he would do but didn't finish. By asking "what time is good for you?" is being respectful of his right to pick a time to complete the task that he already said he would do. She wasn't volunteering him, he said he would do it, but she was asking him to finish what he said he would do.


  11. Kathy R. on December 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Regarding timing… Perhaps you can approach your husband BEFORE the issue becomes a crisis. That is, not when you need an immediate response or when he is relaxing. Choose a time, like after a meal, before you go your separate ways to kindly ask him to help you with a few things. My husband has his own 'timing', which is often not 'now'. But I'm learning to be patient and just keep asking. This seems to be a compromise for both of us. My goal is not to get angry when I'm asking for the fifth time. Actually, I think that impresses him and he's more likely to respond. So, I turn it into a challenge for myself, and my anger is not focused on him. I realize that he is overwhelmed at times, also with all the tasks that have to be done around our house. Trying to put the focus on my response, which I can control (I'm learning….)not so much on his.

  12. Vicky B. on December 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I can so totally relate to what this lady is saying. I have had the exact same issues in my marriage and was feeling the same way. Leslies adivce is right on…be sure to read her book on "How to Act right when your spouse acts wrong". That was greatly beneficial to me. Also something that has worked for me when you absolutely need to discuss an issue is for me to send my husband an email instead of talking to him directly. It allows me to be the most careful with how I say things because I can see it after I write it and make sure I am not throwing him under the bus. I have a tendancy to talk in absolutes. He never…you always…etc. By writing to him it also gets rid of the tone and body language that tend to communicate critisism. Now, when I send him the note I don't run off and tell him go read this note I sent you, nor do I ask him about it afterward. I just allow him to read it and process it and allow him to make any changes on his own that he feels is necessary. That way he does not feel like he is being controlled. If he brings it up then we will talk about it. I have also found that the writing of the letter is very freeing for me. Just writing to him about it has allowed me to process my thoughts and in some cases even let go of the issue before he has even read it.

    Also some advice from my husband that he always tells me is that "men don't read minds. It you want my help just ask and I will help you." We as women tend to wish for our husbands help and then complain when we don't get it (that's what I use to do). Men are not like us, they are not as intuitive as to what are needs are and we have to just ask if we want help. We have to get over the "I shouldn't have to ask" feeling. A good book on this subject is "Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti" by Bill and Pam Farrel. Understanding how men think is very important if we want to live with them in an understanding way. Another book by the same authors that I just finished reading is "Red-Hot Monogamy..making your marriage sizzle". There is great stuff in there that has taken us 20 years to figure out. I wish I had had this book 20 years ago.

    Hope this is helpful to you all. Leslie your books and your messages have been so helpful to me. Thank you for all that you do!

  13. Amy on December 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you for clarifying that, Leslie.

  14. Anonymous on December 14, 2011 at 5:58 am

    I have always enjoyed Ms.Leslie.
    Vernick's wise unbias counsel. Overcoming my husband's continual defensiveness towards me: May I say that first a wife must determine whether or not her hubby even cares enough about the marital relationship or is emotionally capable of being open to her peace making efforts. Is he reasonable or closed spirited? Perhaps his need to dominate/subjegate her or his emotional woundedness is such that her efforts to regard him are misguidedly used to both provoke and weary her. What liberty the wife finds when she realizes that she does not have to continually perform in order to be "good enough" for him to accept and approve of her. May God bless you ladies efforts at being peacemakers within you homes and reassuring hubby that you are not his adversary.(smile) After 39 years, I have found an increasing sense of confidence,health, peace and joy from keeping my eyes on Christ and appreciating the character that he is building within me. So while I am daily endeavoring to be kind to hubby, I realize that my kindness may not be acknowledged or even credited to me as an act of regard or consideration for him. So daily, I am yet learning to faithfully surrender my need for acceptance and comfort to Jesus Christ and THE COMFORTER, rather than comfort myself with food, TV, busy work, gossip, romance novels, pleasuring myself, or seeking inappropriate attention and affection elsewhere.(male/r female surrogate husband) I am not ashamed of my words here; howwever with respect to my husband I will remain anonymous. Be encouraged,Ladies! Keeping it real!

  15. Anonymous on December 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Leslie your words drip with the spirit of peacemaking and your blog makes me want to become the wife God would want in order to bless my husband. I also love the proverb shared by 1hvly1. Thank you for truth for me to focus on, rather than my own self-absorbed thoughts! I also love a quote I recently came across by Mother Teresa: There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread. This echos some of the thoughts shared by the other wise woman who responded to your blog. I am personally challenging myself to be more appreciative towards my husbands good qualities and am seeing him more eager to please me. (He is almost toddler-like in his desire to help me since I changed this about me) The issue of feeling respected that was brought up is hugely important as well. I just witnessed a 180 turn around in a marriage I'm counseling due to the wife's conscious decision to be more respectful when she speaks to her husband. I do need to give credit where credit is due for the wife's ability to change her ways – she recently gave her life to the Lord. Before that they were ready to separate and without hope. All the advice in the world won't help a marriage unless at least one of the partners is willing to see the marriage as an opportunity to grow in holiness and yields their life to the giver of life. Thank you again Leslie.

  16. Anonymous on February 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    He might be feeling like you standing over him or interrupting him while he’s doing something he enjoys (watching football), telling him, asking him or accusing him to “clean up” is like his mother (or a nagging parent), which he of course doesn’t like. Are you putting yourself in that role? Many women joke about having “three kids” when they have two and a husband.
    At this point I imagine you’re exasperated and feel used and abused, so your tone probably indicates that somehow.
    Should you separate jobs, like have a chore chart (he does dishes, you do trash, or vice versa)? Have it written somewhere? I don’t agree with one poster actually, that one should remind someone five times! Letting it go undone is hard, but maybe appropriate? We are still struggling with the fine-tuning of this issue at our house, with two teenagers mostly though. But I have to say that I no longer feel resentment or desperation about it in terms of my husband, because he is helping and contributing and doing so many nice things for me, that when the wheelbarrow ( : or something else is undone, I don’t fly off the handle because overall it is abundantly evident that he wants to help, and he is and does. It’s new in many ways, and fabulous. (Not that he was a horrible person before all these new changes! Somewhat strange, but true. But we needed to make some BIG changes.)

    We are just coming out of a major marriage growth period where my husband did a complete turnaround in realizing how he was treating me and behaviors he was doing that were hurtful. [This was after counseling for him, about some things in his growing-up life; and some other major realizations about changes (responding to pressures) he wanted to make at work and with different perspectives on that as well.] We also found Leslie’s book (The Emotionally Destructive Relationship) outstandingly helpful, and another male friend gave him the book, “How to Win Your Wife Back Before It’s Too Late,” which includes a list of little things that husband’s do in daily life that can deeply hurt their wives without them realizing it. Things like, interrupting her, turning on the TV while she’s talking, Many things, which made my husband cry hard (!!) when he first read them (it's an extensive list) and realized how many he was doing. He had been hurt and manipulated and controlled and was doing the same. It didn’t matter how nicely or at the right time I said things about housework or whatever. We needed to fix some things at the core. I can say now, after MUCH amazing healing (Praise GOD!!) that beauty and hope is restored in our relationship. It’s phenomenal – but it was painful, hard work. Without knowing about this when I did it (I was just woken up to realization when he was gone for an extended time and I felt free…), I “perpetuated a crisis” in the counseling way, and it woke my husband up. He really did love me and wanted to do everything possible to figure out how to do that.

    Here’s to us all keeping trying, while relying completely on God, our Counselor and Friend (and Everything). Daily, vibrant Bible study and prayer during personal time with God is now a part of my husband’s life – and mine – and really continues to make all the difference. He is also seeking out getting together with Christian men friends for accountability and support, and enjoyment (not just watching football together).

    God really can and does show us things when we ask and seek.

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