Are Your Oversensitive? How Defensiveness May Be Damaging Your Marriage

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Being sensitive is almost universally hailed as a positive trait. But, as with most traits, we can have too much of a good thing. Too much of a good thing morphs into a bad thing and bad things can add up and damage your marriage.

In other words, being oversensitive usually doesn’t end well.

What Does “Oversensitive” Mean?

Being oversensitive is often an “eye of the beholder” concept. But there are some important guidelines and differences to keep in mind:

Sensitive Person

In general, this refers to someone who demonstrates a high degree of empathy. They are usually the first person to respond when anyone is in need. In this case, “sensitive” is being used here as basically a synonym for “compassionate.”

Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Have you ever met someone who is easily impacted by outside stimuli? The HSP is a person who has trouble filtering sensory input. This may inspire certain emotions but it is not, at its root, an emotional issue.

Oversensitive Person

It may help to view this concept as another word for “defensive.” The oversensitive person hears criticism in every comment. To them, even the most benign statement is an attack. They feel inadequate and therefore choose to deflect by blaming others for being “insensitive.”

How Being Oversensitive and Defensive May Be Damaging Your Marriage

As you can likely imagine, defensiveness derails healthy communication. Any relationship can be at risk when spouses cannot communicate their needs. We may all have our moments of defensiveness, but chronic oversensitivity can lay the groundwork for chronic marriage issues. Here’s how to recognize five of its many guises:

1. “But What About You?”

You have a valid complaint and you bring it up to your partner. They get defensive and reply with something like: “But you do that all the time, too!” This may or may not be true but it’s certainly not the point or the primary point of conflict.

2. Gaslighting

This tactic involves your partner winding your complaint into increasingly complicated circles. Eventually, it may appear as if you exaggerated the entire thing — or even made it up! You start to question your own sanity.

3. Excuse-Making

Some spouses have a readymade supply of very articulate, valid-sounding excuses. To not accept such an excuse makes you sound unreasonable and will lead them into a predictably defensive stance.

4. Passive-Aggressive Reframing

“This is the tenth time I’ve asked you to help out,” you say. “But again, I had to take care of it myself.” In response, your partner may divert eye contact, lower their voice, and begin wondering why you even “put up with” them. “I’m such a bad spouse. I don’t deserve you.” Uh oh. You find you’re now consoling and reassuring them rather than addressing the ongoing concern.

5. Bullying and Other Abusive Behavior

Things don’t always reach this point. However, defensiveness. left unchecked, increases the likelihood of more extreme outbursts. The goal? To scare you out of future complaints.

Where to Find Some Middle Ground

Each spouse has the right to set boundaries and defend themselves. Both partners must also have the right to be honest and open without fearing an ugly confrontation. There is a middle ground but it can difficult to find in the midst of marital strife. This is why so many couples choose to seek counseling.

In a neutral setting — with an unbiased mediator — it is much easier to discern healthy boundaries from defensive accusations. Both partners are heard and validated. Unproductive patterns are identified. From there, new strategies can emerge. When communication has devolved into a messy “he said-she said,” commit to therapy to find that middle and common ground.