Relationship Fitness

S10: Anger E6: Defensive Anger Play

In “Relationship Workout for Men” Season 10 Episode 6 titled “Defensive Anger Play,” Vince explores the complex nature of defensive anger in relationships, where individuals often react to criticism or perceived threats by defending their innocence, regardless of the situation’s reality. He identifies various manifestations of defensive anger, such as denial, counterattacking, and rationalizing, which ultimately serve to protect oneself rather than address the underlying issues. Vince delves into the defensive anger cycle, illustrating how it blocks open dialogue and perpetuates unresolved conflicts. Through this episode, Vince seeks to encourage listeners to recognize their defensive behaviors and work towards more open and constructive ways of handling conflicts, promoting a healthier and more understanding relationship dynamic.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 10, Episode 6: Defensive Anger Play

In this episode, we turn our attention to the last weak anger play: Defensive anger.

So, What is Defensive Anger?

Defensive Anger is about not wanting to be perceived as a bad person. It’s about defending oneself, insisting on one’s innocence, and believing that accusations are false, regardless of what might be the real deal. In other words, defensive anger is a reaction to feeling threatened, criticized, or challenged, and often serves as a means to protect oneself from perceived harm or discomfort. Here are fifteen common ways in which defensive anger can be manifested:

1. Denial: Insisting that an accusation or criticism is untrue, regardless of evidence.

2. Counterattacking: Responding to criticism or a perceived slight by immediately attacking or criticizing the other person.

3. Rationalizing or Justifying: Making excuses for the behavior that prompted the anger or trying to explain it away.

4. Minimizing the Situation: Downplaying the significance of the event or the feelings of others involved.

5. Deflecting: Shifting the focus from oneself to something or someone else to avoid addressing the issue at hand.

6. Playing the Victim: Portraying oneself as the wronged party to gain sympathy or deflect blame.

7. Sarcasm: Using sarcastic comments as a defensive shield against criticism or confrontation.

8. Overreacting: Responding to minor criticisms or issues with disproportionate anger.

9. Blaming Others: Assigning responsibility for one’s actions or feelings to someone else.

10. Withdrawing: Pulling away from the situation or conversation as a means to avoid further confrontation or discussion.

11. Mocking or Belittling: Using humor or mockery to diminish the other person’s concerns or point of view.

12. Stonewalling: Refusing to engage in conversation or to acknowledge the issue, effectively shutting down communication.

13. Gaslighting: Manipulating the situation to make the other person question their own perceptions or sanity.

14. Excessive Self-Defense: Overly defending oneself even when not seriously accused or threatened.

15. Projection: Attributing one’s own undesirable feelings or traits to another person.

Defensive anger is often a reflexive, automatic response and may not always be the most constructive way to handle criticism or perceived threats. It is considered a weak anger play as it can hinder effective communication and problem-solving. 

In addition, the Defensive Anger Cycle is a cycle of maintaining one’s innocence. In response to the “accuser” sharing what’s bothering him or her, the “accused’ directly or indirectly states his or her case of innocence, typically with an angry tone. In either case, the accuser’s issue becomes blocked from being openly discussed.

If direct, the accused goes on the defensive, pleading innocence (“I didn’t do it!”) and not wanting to admit fault to the accuser. If indirect, the accused goes immediately to the war path, blaming the accuser of doing the same thing (“You did that to me!”) or something worse, never listening to and responding directly to the accuser’s issue. 

Here’s what the first four stages of the defensive anger cycle might look:

  • Stage 1: One partner (aka the “accuser”) brings up something that’s bothering him or her. 
  • Stage 2: The partner – in other words, the “Accused” — feels accused and blamed, often becoming angry as a result.
  • Stage 3: The accused person quickly retaliates by stating his or her case of innocence, called reciting the “innocence agenda.” This statement of innocence is often done before truly understanding all of the “accuser’s” perspective.
  • Stage 4: The now defending, accused person keeps returning to an innocence agenda basically blocking deeper understanding of the issue at hand, regardless of what the “accuser” says.

At this point the cycle can go one of two ways: One, the accuser keeps pushing the issue. When this happens, the cycle continues like this:

  • Stage 5: The “Accuser” just keeps pushing on the topic until the “Accused” person blows up into another anger play.
  • Stage 6: And when this happens, the couple enters a different, likely weak anger play cycle, such as aggressive or passive anger cycles.

Or, the cycle can go in a different direction if the accuser ends up giving up and dropping the subject. When this happens, the cycle looks more like this:

  • Stage 5: The “accuser” just gives up all together and drops the subject, realizing it’s pointless to say something.
  • Stage 6: The underlying issue still remains and will resurface as a different symptom.

In addition, A person who uses Defensive Anger can have a specific profile. This person:

  • Might have sensitivity to being wrongly accused.
  • Might have sensitivity to being misunderstood.
  • Might have an ego (and self-perceived halo) so big that he or she can’t consider ever having done something potentially “wrong.”

It’s important to understand that the person who feels accused could be quite innocent of any wrongdoing and the accusations could prove to be completely false. In fact, so many issues stem from misunderstandings, leaving a gold mine of potential issues in need of clarity where there is no guilty party; it was all just a misunderstanding.

Regardless of actual innocence or guilt, there’s no need to get defensive. Instead, if you talk from an open and honest place, then at the very least you should be able to discover what’s troubling you and your partner. And as no one’s perfect, there will undoubtedly be times when one or the other (or both of you) contributes at least something to the issue.

Having said that, if you find that your partner is constantly accusing you of things she is making up, you may find yourself exhausted. It can take a lot of energy to continuously defuse self-created drama. Life can have enough challenges without creating your own out of thin air.

Taking a Deeper Look at Defensive Anger, A person’s sensitivity to being wrongly accused or misunderstood can be deeply rooted in unresolved childhood stuff, and/or the result of an overinflated ego.

One, Unjustly Punished

Sensitivity to being wrongly accused and/or misunderstood can be deeply rooted in childhood experience. For example, the person may have often been wrongly punished in childhood because of misunderstandings. In this case, the primary caregiver could have had a bad temper and punished the child severely without knowing what was really going on, or punished just because he or she was angry (and not even angry at the child).

And Two, Ego

With ego, the person may think so highly of him or herself that there is absolutely no room to even consider doing things differently, regardless of what the partner is saying or feeling. Our egos can be very fragile and can retaliate with a vengeance when we perceive a threat. The immediate response is to blame the other person for somehow being at fault, thereby protecting the ego.

In any case, recognizing and understanding one’s defensive reactions can be the first step towards responding in a more thoughtful and productive manner when inevitable issues arise in your relationship. That said, in some cases, working with a therapist or counselor can help individuals develop healthier ways of coping with criticism and perceived threats.

If you’re curious if defensive anger plays, or any of the other weak anger plays, might be contributing to drama in your relationship, remember you can complete the Relationship Workout Program at to self-identify if weak anger plays may very well be present in your relationship. If this is the case, the Relationship Workout AI coach will then provide insights to suggest how to address these weak anger plays.

In fact, the Relationship Workout program helped me to self-identify that to improve the quality of my marriage, I need to work on being less defensive when I’m angry. And the Relationship Workout AI coach suggested how I can change this, which I’m actually working on now, starting with practicing better active listening.

So, with that summary on defensive anger plays, we complete our discussion on the weak anger plays: Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive, Avoidance and Defensive.

Next, we turn our attention to the two strong anger plays: Assertive and Letting Go, starting with making the Assertive Anger play, the topic of our next episode.

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