Your spouse says to you: “You didn’t run the washing machine last night. There was something in there I wanted to wear today.” You respond with:

A)     “Call the police!”

B)     “Geez! I forgot, alright?! So sue me. You never notice the stuff I do right around here.”

C)     “Oh, shoot! Sorry about that.”

Pencils down! Let’s look at these.

A) – depending on the intensity of the situation, the state of your relationship, each person’s personality, what kind of mood each person is in right then, and all the subtleties of your delivery, this answer could be seen as sarcastic and rude or simply lighthearted. So it might escalate or help de-escalate a conflict. Lots to consider with this response.

B) is a highly defensive answer and the most likely to elicit a defensive attack from your spouse or an abrupt backing off and disconnect. Neither of which is good for a relationship.

C) is the correct response if your goal is to have a happy, healthy relationship. This response is the most likely to immediately and completely diffuse a conflict. According to John Gottman, a world-renowned couple’s therapist and researcher, frequent defensiveness is one of the four indicators that a marriage is headed towards divorce. The antidote? You guessed it! Taking responsibility. Try it. The next time you feel defensive don’t just react. Genuinely take responsibility and then sit back and notice the immediate and pleasant effects it has on you, the other person, and your relationship.


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