Stop blaming your partner! Ouch, yes – I said it. Stop blaming your partner, and, while you’re at it stop blaming yourself. Blame, either projected on someone else or directed back on ourselves will not bring us closer together. It in fact draws us into a blaming-defensive spiral that is designed to keep us in a protective isolated mode and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to connect with others.
Why do we blame?
Our society breeds and celebrates blame. How many times when something goes wrong, do you hear, “Whose fault is it?”, “Don’t blame me”, “It’s all your fault”, or “I don’t blame you”. It feels good to know that someone else screwed up, or that at least it wasn’t your fault. And it feels terrible when the blame is turned on you. After all, even if you made a mistake or miscalculated or overlooked something, most likely your intent was not to harm, cause a big problem for the other person or for your relationship.
Blame really is the easy way out – it is so much easier to put the blame on someone else than to accept responsibility for our own part. That’s why we blame. When we are on the opposite side of blame, or are being blamed, we often go directly into our past to defend, justify and vindicate ourselves from the onslaught of fault, because it feels rotten! When you and another person are in a blaming-defensive loop, you are both very likely sinking quickly down a hole where solutions become nearly impossible to find. Each person becomes entrenched in the story of what happened from their own perspective, and very rarely is one perspective completely right. You can actually both be totally right, and you can both be completely wrong, and so many variations in between, but is that really important?
Blame keeps us stuck. It makes it difficult to figure out where we went off track or what we could have done better, or how we can solve issues in the future. When you are blaming, you are not seeking solutions, you have handed all power over to the other person who you have determined is “at fault”. The problem is that the other person being blamed is stuck in defending themselves, or turning the blame back on you, to avoid feeling shame. Shame also keeps us stuck and can spiral from “I made a mistake” to “I am a bad person”, and when you feel like you are a bad person, you are not seeking solutions. Blame + Defensiveness + Shame = No Solutions and No Connection. This cycle breeds hopelessness and frustration. In the end, no one feels heard or understood, and it feels downright crappy and isolating on both sides.
So, what can we do instead?
- Get curious about blame – and your own relationship with blame. What role has blame played in your life? Were you blamed as a child? Notice when you feel pulled to blame others. What is going on inside of you? Is there a feeling or thought that you want to offload to someone else? How is your body reacting? Do you feel tightness, heat, or other sensation? Do you feel a superiority over the other person you are blaming? Does admitting fault feel like failure? Getting in touch with the role blame has played in our lives brings awareness to how it shows up now, and ultimately how it affects our relationships today.
- Reflect on the situation. Think about what happened and if it is ultimately more important to get caught up in a blame-defense spiral or to seek a solution and understanding of your partner. Do you want to be right, or do you want to feel connected? (Hint – you can’t have both at the same time)
- Shift from blame to accountability. To hold oneself accountable means to own one’s feelings and take responsibility for your contribution to the relationship, both good and bad. Accountability is an antidote to blame. Accountability creates an environment where we can have conversations, become aware of our shortfalls, and use them as opportunities for learning and growth. With accountability conversations we can seek causes and identify agreements using relational qualities such as respect, trust, and curiosity. With accountability we continue to grow and find mutual solutions.
- Seek to understand the other person. Listen, be empathetic, not judgmental. Ask questions. Imagine the other person’s perspective or intention, was it an accident or on purpose? You are not perfect, don’t expect others to be perfect.
- If you fall into the blame spiral again (and yes, you will) – don’t be harsh and blame on yourself. Pat yourself on the back for noticing where you fell back into a pattern of blame. You are learning and growing. Change is hard. Be compassionate with yourself and your blame. Take responsibility and accountability and try again, you’ve got this!
Do you want to blame or be connected? In the end, you have the choice.
Michele Bailey is a Core Practitioner with People House specializing in working with couples and individuals to live authentically and relationally. She is a mom of teenagers, dog mom, and marriage partner. She has an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy from Regis University as well as an MBA and a BA in international studies. She draws from attachment and experiential therapies in her work with individuals and couples with a goal of creating a supportive environment to help clients heal, grow and become empowered to live their most authentic lives. You can reach Michele at email@example.com, www.connnectcounselingco.com or (720) 600-4615.