The third horseman is defensiveness. You usually become defensive when you feel unjustly accused or attacked by your partner. It's quite natural to have this response because internally you may feel threatened or stressed. You may also feel unappreciated or a need to "defend" your own honor. Defensiveness drives you into a mode of "you against me". When this happens, even a seemingly neutral comment may be taken as an attack. During a conflict, being defensive conveys that you are not taking your partner seriously or hearing them out. This is the point where defensiveness affects the relationship. Often times, it can even ignite an argument that was completely avoidable.
Example of a defensive statement:
- Your partner says "Honey, you forgot to go buy some milk today."
- You respond: "I was just too darn busy today. As a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was. Why didn't you just do it?"
A non-defensive response would have been:
"Oops, I forgot. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day would be packed. There's next week."
Although completely reasonable to defend yourself in the example above, defensiveness does not help your communication. In fact, you may find your partner saying things to you such as "I can't tell you anything because you always get mad." If you find yourself often denying responsibility, making excuses, or lashing back with a complaint of your own during a conflict, then most likely you have uttered those words "it's not my fault" as well.