Taking Offense in Marriage (and other relationships)

woman crying and taking offense to her husband's words

Taking offense is being hurt, upset or angry by something your spouse (or anyone else) says or does. Always at the heart of taking offense is feeling treated unfairly. Your partner has been insensitive, inconsiderate, dismissing, condescending or disparaging in some way. What you’re hearing or how you’re being treated doesn’t fit with how you want to be viewed, so you’re likely to react in a harmful way by either withdrawing and shutting down or defending and going on the attack.

By reacting in these ways, you are no longer in charge of your feelings and reactions but give your personal power to someone else. You feel good or bad depending on what they say and do. Not a fun way to live.

What Causes Us to Take Offense?

The root cause of taking offense is that your ego is rooted in what others think of you more than what you think of yourself. Most of us learned this unconsciously as children by tuning into how we perceived that our primary caregivers saw us. We grew up relying on their approval to approve of ourselves. Now as adults we bring self-doubt from the past into the present and so overreact when we perceive that our spouse is questioning our worth, competence, attractiveness, or integrity.

I want to suggest two remedies to taking offense.

1. It’s not about You

First, realize it is not about you. Let’s say you’re driving down a road, going a little slowly because you’re looking for an address, and someone comes up behind you and lays on the horn. It is not about you. This person doesn’t even know you. Their reaction is about them. Maybe they’re in a hurry, maybe impatient and upset. Their thoughts and feelings are driving (no pun intended) their behavior more than your behavior is driving their behavior.

Or imagine a child who throws a fit when you tell him it’s time to get ready for bed. He stomps around and yells, “I hate you.” You wouldn’t take this personally. You’d realize it has to do with the child—his disappointment about not getting to stay up, his underdeveloped ability to handle his feelings. It is not about you.

Or, say your spouse tells you to stop being so sensitive when you’re recounting an upsetting event. Or, perhaps he criticizes you for how you talked to a child, or rebuffs your attempt at intimacy. I could go on and on with so many examples. These comments and reactions of a spouse are more about him or her than you. They reflect their thoughts and feelings, even their level of emotional maturity more than you.

Step Back with Empathy

What works is to notice what is underneath their words or behavior. How is their comment a way of trying to solve some emotional discomfort going on in them at this moment? The driver may be upset about not getting somewhere fast enough. The child is disappointed about not being able to stay up. Telling you to stop being so sensitive is a way your partner is attempting to calm his own anxiety.

Seeing another’s offensive behavior in this way can help you detach and let it go. You can let it be about him or her and not you. Learning to not react is an important way for you to take greater responsibility for yourself. It helps you grow in emotional maturity.

2. Maybe it is About You

I said there were two remedies to not taking offense. The second is to realize that sometimes it is about you. Maybe you are driving way below the speed limit. Maybe you did talk harshly to a child. Perhaps your partner feels rebuffed every time he or she tries to initiate sex.

This is not to make you wrong or feel bad. It is to say that taking offense can sometimes be an opportunity for you to learn and grow in areas where you have unfinished business or emotional pain. You don’t feel whole and so become extra sensitive to ways in which others say and do things that seem to be disparaging in some way.

If I were to tell you that I think you’re wearing ugly shoes, you’d probably not react. It isn’t an issue. You’re not insecure about your shoes. No big deal. But if what I say taps into an insecurity, you’re much more likely to react. I said something that touches something inside you.

Offer Yourself Empathy and Compassion

The way you deal with this is by offering yourself empathy and compassion. Don’t criticize yourself for your reaction. Understand it. What is the sensitivity or emotional pain that got triggered? Allow it. Give it space rather than run from it or be defensive about it. The more you can bring compassion to your reaction the more you’ll be able to heal. Make it your goal to notice when this is happening. Stop focusing so much on your partner (or other person) and instead focus on healing yourself.

The second thing you can do if it is about you is to open up. I’m not talking about defending yourself or blaming your partner. I’m talking about being honest about your more vulnerable feelings. “I felt hurt and cut off when you told me to stop being so sensitive.” “I felt ashamed when you told me I was being overly harsh.” “I feel lonely and unimportant when I initiate sex and you don’t respond. I wonder if you love me.”

Being Vulnerable

It makes you very vulnerable to share your softer feelings rather than defend and lash out. And you have to be clear in your own mind and with your partner that you’re not doing it to shift responsibility to them or ask them to fix it for you. You’re commenting and owning the part of you that needs healing.

Of course, if this is a new way of talking then your spouse may not know how to respond. Can you make that okay rather than getting critical of them which is giving up your responsibility again? When you take responsibility for your own feelings, they don’t have to respond to everything perfectly. You’re in the process of healing yourself. Maybe they can be there and listen as you do so. Some can’t, simply because they haven’t been taught how.

But for now, this is about you taking responsibility for taking offense. You do so by knowing that often it is not about you. On other occasions you do this by knowing that it is about you and focusing on your own healing rather than your spouse’s behavior when that is the case.

In truth, you always have a choice about how to react to your partner. Although it is easy to slip into simply getting angry and defending or hurt and retreating, it’s a lot more powerful to be clear and own your reactions and let others own their reactions.  If you focus on what your partner says and does then you’re focusing on what you don’t control. You put all your energy into trying to get them to change rather than changing yourself. The magic is in keeping the focus on yourself, what you control, so you can better understand what’s going on and find better ways of responding.

Want More

Let me invite you to sign up for my best-selling online marriage course (rated 4.8/5) entitled: Creating a Happy Marriage and Loving Relationship or learn more here.



  1. Connie

    Excellent as always.

  2. Barbara Engel

    Such good advice, Roger—-thank you so much !!

  3. Yasmina

    Exactly what I needed to “hear” today, as I am searching on what I can do NOT to feel so easily offended by my husband. Thanks, it gave me an idea

  4. Celia

    Thank you for this. My husband often get into fight over silly things. Because in that moment he felt offended of what I said although it wasn’t my intention to offend him. Then I start to get upset and cry because I feel like he wants to be always right. So I cry my heart out and defend myself. Then he gets angry at me for not saying sorry because he said I offended him. But I really didn’t want to say sorry cause I really think that it was just a silly conversation that he suddenly felt offended. It’s really stressing me out, thought of just ending my life because I’m tired of this scenario.
    But we have a son that depends on me. So thank you for this. I should really find healing and my husband too. But I don’t know how to help him heal.

    • Roger Allen

      You are welcome, Celia. It is good to learn to observe more and react less to what is happening around us. I’m sorry that your husband takes offense easily. Of course, he is responsible for taking offense. It is a choice he is making. There are other ways he could respond to what you say or do. As long as you are not trying to give offense then you have to let him own his responsibility for how he interprets your behavior without thinking that you have done something wrong or can make things better for him.

      I am sorry it is so stressful to you but don’t let it push you to ending your life. There is too much to live for, including your son. And remember that your husband has to want to heal or he will not heal. You can support him if he makes this decision but cannot do his work for him. You have to take good care of yourself in your relationship.


      • Anita

        Thank you so much for this post. And Celia! Hang in there! Maybe we can learn together how to work with them! But please know you aren’t alone! If he’s anything like my husband he had lots of trauma in his past. That absolutely does not excuse what they’re doing but maybe that can give us hope and patience in working through things. I know I love my husband more than anything but you’re right! It is so draining and exhausting! I live in a constant state of what the heck did I do this time!
        I have tried to let him own his responsibility but if he was offended it was because of my actions. And I am to take responsibility for having sounded the way I did no matter my intentions or how I think I sounded. It is acceptable for me to say that it wasn’t my intention as long as there is absolutely no expounding that could in any way sound as an excuse or as justifying my behavior. And if I ever called an argument silly! I am completely diminishing how he feels and not owning up to my mistake which most often are an unrealized tone in my voice or a way of wording something that he found offensive. It is completely unreasonable for him to think that he might be the one at fault in being sensitive. That sounds to him like I’m saying I can treat him however I want and he needs to get over it.

        • Roger Allen

          Thank you for sharing, Anita. It sounds like you and Celia are dealing with similar circumstances. It’s always good to connect up and know when we are not alone, that others are going through something similar to us. In fact, that’s an important part of learning and practicing self-compassion.

          Relationships are easier when both people are willing to take responsibility for their feelings and actions. Of course, that is not always the case. I encourage you to keep working on a strong sense of yourself so you can feel okay even when you’re not getting what you hope from him.

  5. Nebula

    Should I be offended?? I’ve been looking for a remote job and my husband came home with information about remote work. (He overheard a female in the office talking on the phone about her friend getting a remote job) I was happy to receive the information because remote work is hard to find. What I wasn’t happy about was my husband telling me that the female can tailor my resume for the job. Where I became offended at is that the female is practically a child compared to me, nothing against age, but I am more than capable of tailoring my resume myself. It made me feel like my husband doesn’t pay attention to me or knows the things that I am capable of and so I was offended. Am I overreacting??

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks so much for your comment and personal disclosure, Nebula. Are you overreacting? No, you’re human. We all react and even “overreact” from time to time. Your reaction means that something important was triggered inside of you. Rather than either ignore your feelings or invalidate yourself that you were triggered, can you use this as an opportunity to learn and grow?

      Take a deep look. What feelings were triggered? Allow them. Lean into them and let yourself feel them for a few minutes, until they begin to dissipate. No judgement or guilt. What can you learn from them? What message do they bring? (Be careful to not make it about your husband. This event had a very different meaning to him.)

      What are the deeper thoughts or even beliefs behind your feelings? What thoughts caused you to react and feel disrespected or less than capable? Can you own those thoughts rather than attribute them to your husband? Are these thoughts true? What is the evidence they are not true? Who would you be without those thoughts? What would be a new and empowering thought(s)?

      Hopefully, this is a way you can learn from your experience. Learning is an alternative to resenting your husband or feeling bad about yourself.

      Let me know how it goes.


  6. Jacqueline Carpenter

    Thank you for your article.
    My wife constantly tells me I take things she says too personally. Case in point. I had a stressful day at work. I’m getting ready for a huge inspection. I’m organizing and cleaning like crazy. She asked me why was my day stressful. I tell her that co-works just don’t care that I’m busting my but to get ready for this inspection. They leave things that I have organized a mess. Her response..Well now you know how I feel at home. My reply,
    I guess I shouldn’t have said anything. Her reply…There you go again I’m sick of it your Taking things personally again like you always do. I’m feeling invalidated

    • Roger Allen

      You are welcome, Jacqueline. It sound like you and your wife are caught up in a cycle of escalation which I’ve talked about in the article “Toxic Relationship Patterns that Kill Love” as well as in my online marriage course. It is so easy for you to make accusations and take offense and so the interactions escalate into an unproductive outcome. The key to breaking out is to keep your focus on yourself and not your wife because that is where the learning and personal growth occur. It isn’t about getting her to be different but becoming more aware of your own responses and learning to alter them. That is hard work. What is going on when you take offense? How can you support yourself in these moments? In other words, how can you validate yourself rather than seeking it from her? This isn’t about cutting yourself off from your relationship but taking more responsibility for your emotional reactions so you can heal yourself. Does this make sense?


  7. Laura H.

    Thank you so much for this!!! My husband and I are newly weds married for 3 1/2 months. Lately I have been noticing myself taking offense to things that my husband says that he doesn’t mean any offense by. After I cool off, it frustrates me that I blew up and wonder why I was so bothered about something so little or nothing at all and I worry that it affects him and our relationship. He always reassures me that it’s okay, but my most recent blow up I told him I’m going to work on it for both of us. So here’s to change and growth!

    • Roger Allen

      You are welcome, Laura. I’m glad that you can see what’s happening and are willing to work on this. Give yourself grace and know that your progress is a process. You’ll get better at it.


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