This is where I am. Even thinking about talking about the affairs ties my stomach up in nots. My thoughts become illogical and I'm immediately on the defensive. The walls go up, BS talks to me and I'm on edge and feeling like she is going to go on the offensive and attack me. Pointing out my past failings and brining up where I am failing today feel like it is done to push me down rather than bring me up.
I point blank asked my WH about this last night - this feeling and how it is now, as opposed to 3 years ago when he started really trying to address these feelings in him. He said:
Those feelings are still there, sometimes, and he realizes that how I phrase things oftentimes is the difference between how attacked he feels...and that irritates him still as he knows I am not going on the attack. The difference between 3 years ago and now, for him at least, is his concern with feeling attacked.
First, there were times when I WAS on attack, especially after d-day 2 when the year of false-R had been exposed - when I wanted to make him feel as shitty as possible about what had happened. And yeah, admittedly I wanted him to suffer a bit. Things were really bad for awhile - and we have the luxury of not having kids so there was nothing holding us back from having true screaming matches. It was bad. Really bad.
With that context, he says that a big thing for him is reminding himself of what a "real" attack feels like. The second is when he feels attacked, he says so, and then asks for clarification as to why I am asking what I ask. He just comes out with it, and sometimes I can tell that it is uncomfortable for him to say it...BUT, when he says that out loud, to me, it gives me the opportunity to explain why I am asking what I am asking/taking about, and it de-escalates his anxiety pretty quickly.
Part of this process has required me to be honest. There have been a few times where, when asked why I am bringing up something, my honest response has been: "there isn't really a valid reason, so I think it was an unnecessary jab." It still happens, even as unconstructive as it is - I have moments when I am still in "fuck you" mode, even after all these years. It's not helpful and I know it. We are well beyond my WH accepting what he did and understanding how it affected me, to the extent he ever can.
Usually, my response is to explain that my questions/comments/whatever are more about me than about him. Just last night we talked about TV's portrayal of affairs generally being not very realistic and glazing over how destructive they are and how sometimes I get really pissed about that and can't keep watching because of it, and that it doesn't make me think badly of him specifically, but that my emotional reaction is about society's lack of compassion about this topic (and about how it likely fueled my own lack of compassion about it prior to his A). We ended up talking about how much he hates it when a show we are watching has an infidelity component because it makes him feel like shit and that he feels anxious and on edge, fearing my reaction, and that he has to make conscious decision to consider how I feel about these things - that maybe I feel like the lack of compassion shown in these shows are more of an attack on me than on him - that how I feel isn't portrayed as "normal" and instead is over-reactionary. Sometimes that is enough and the moment passes.
Basically, he says he has accepted that some things are not comfortable, and are never going to be...especially as he is a very non-confrontational person. He does not do well with discomfort/confrontation. It is easier in the short term to just avoid, rug-sweep, but, he reminds himself from where we have come - the discomfort was immense. The conversations/arguments were ugly at times - yet we are still here, talking, and not yelling or fighting. It has gotten easier. I'm guessing it has for you too, even though at times it seems like the same old same old - it's not. I guarantee you.
Oddly, I too was very non-confrontational before the A, but the aftermath of the A, and especially false-R, kicked that out of me quite a bit. Letting go of the outcome, and being bluntly honest has paid dividends for me personally, and now that my WH is much more likely to do the same - for "us" generally.
Things are still uncomfortable at times. Some topics always will be uncomfortable. I suspect some of your defensiveness stems from that discomfort. The sooner you are able to get your brain to accept that some topics are always going to be uncomfortable, and realizing that passing thought that discomfort quickly, leaning in and dealing with it, takes the sting out and lets you get to the other side more quickly, the sooner you will have less of those feelings.
I'm not going to lie - my WH is still defensive. The difference is that I call him out on it now pretty quickly. I try to explain why I am discussing something before I get deeply into it, not just for him, but to keep me accountable too. You can do the same by just saying it out loud - "I am feeling defensive." "I am feeling attacked, and I don't think that is what you are doing but I still feel that way. Telling me why you are asking/discussing X and what you want from this discussion would help me participate more constructively..." Or something like that might help. Sometimes he will admit he is feeling defensive and that he needs a minute - and I give it to him. It's give and take - that's what R is like, and admittedly while IDK if we are trying to R in the way it is used here, we are trying to R our friendship - it's the same process, the same work, the same commitment to dealing with uncomfortable shit.
IDK if this is helpful at all or if its just incomprehensible ramblings. I guess what I'm to say is that sometimes talking about the discomfort itself is half the battle. Getting it out there into the light renders it less toxic.