Stop Blaming Me: How to Deal With Blame In Your Relationship
How to stop blaming each other, and turn your partnership around.
What usually happens when couples fight? Most of us think, at some point: “It’s my partner’s fault.”
Finding fault may seem normal and natural. We do it without knowing it. But there’s a problem with faulting your partner when you disagree.
Blame gets in the way of seeing each other clearly. It blinds us to our own part in the conflict. And it makes problem solving almost impossible!
Fighting with your partner sets off strong emotions, like fury and fear of rejection. How can you calm down when your relationship is threatened? How can you explore strong emotions, without getting swept up in them?
It’s not easy, but by facing your conflict together, you can find a better way. And you will grow closer in the process.
Why Blame Is Toxic to Your Relationship
Why are people so quick to point fingers sometimes?
Blame is a defense against the threat of danger. In some families blame is learned in childhood. A sense of danger might come from feeling unheard or judged. You may feel it after having some of your deeper values trod upon.
Faultfinding can become a cemented response by the time someone’s in a relationship. It feels like the high ground of truth.
But blame is really based in buried fear. There’s a deep fear that something terrible is happening to the relationship. The first impulse is to attack.
Our partner’s take on things seems wrong. In pain and worry, we rush to pounce on the error – what looks to be the source in our partner.
But is it? Let’s slow down to see how we go from reacting to resenting and attacking the person we love, so we can choose another path.
Name It to Tame It
Anyone who feels blamed feels threatened and defensive. The natural fight-flight-freeze reaction kicks in. Emotions heat up. The thinking brain shuts off. Angry words reflect angrier feelings. No one can speak gently from the softer feelings under the harsh ones.
The first step out of the cycle starts with slowing things down. Take a break from the argument. Let everyone cool off. Then reflect by yourself, with a journal, or with a supportive friend.
To understand what’s driving thoughts about who’s at fault, we have to listen to the story we tell ourselves. Listen to your own narrative. Then look for the courage to challenge it.
Check the Story You’re Telling Yourself
Is that story the whole truth? Is it proof your partner doesn’t love you, when they set you off? What do you need to feel okay about the situation? What does your partner need?
Name the feelings and needs you find. This step is key to helping you and your partner understand each other.
Accusations can send both of you into an emotional red zone. When anger escalates, it’s like a vortex that twists and distorts the way you see each other’s needs. Your words come out in hostile forms that neither person can hear.
But you can regroup. Both of you can find healthier ways to state what you need, so you can hear each other and be there for each other.
To see how this works, we’ll use an example of a typical (but fictional) couple, Mary and John.
An Example: Mary and John’s Parenting Challenge
Many couples argue over parenting differences. That’s what happened for Mary and John. They are raising two teenagers.
Mary likes to give the kids spending money. John wants them to earn what they spend. He wants them to find jobs like babysitting or dog walking and pay for things themselves.
Mary spends time with the kids after school. They are busy with sports, activities, homework and time with friends.
Mary does most of the driving. She notices the positive influence of her children’s friends. Sometimes the kids want to join their classmates at movies or sporting events. They don’t get odd jobs often enough to pay for tickets and snacks.
Now that they are teens, John wants the children to be more helpful, and learn to manage their spending. He also wants them feel capable, empowered, and confident when it’s time to land their first jobs later on.
He believes that handing them money now robs them of the best way to build the confidence they will need in the job market and in life.
When John isn’t around, the kids ask Mary for money. She often says yes. When John finds out, he feels betrayed and gets mad. Mary and John fight over this.
Mary wants to support the children’s friendships without worrying about a few dollars. John doesn’t want them to miss out the experience of taking care of themselves.
Mary and John notice their frustration growing over their parenting differences. This sore spot keeps getting inflamed. John is quick to blow up at Mary. She responds by retreating in silence. A pattern of blaming and withdrawing from each other has taken hold.
Changing the Pattern of Arguing
How can John and Mary turn things around and create a better outcome?
The first step is to recognize the pattern of arguing, and decide to step back from it. Finding even a small piece of common ground can help the make the shift. They agree they both have the kids’ best interests at heart.
Their challenging question: What can they do to respond better to the family’s needs?
Why “Helpful Tips” for your Partner Don’t Work
Many couples attempt to fix problems by trying to change their partner’s point of view. They may offer “helpful suggestions” when it comes to dealing with kids.
Their intentions might be good. But this approach doesn’t usually work. That’s because the receiver doesn’t usually feel helped. The advised partner most often feels criticized, misunderstood and unsupported.
The most helpful shift is to listen for what each person values. When each partner becomes able to gently voice his or her own view, they have found a good place to begin the work of reconnecting.
Understanding Must Come Before You Can Solve Anything
Hearing and understanding each other’s values and needs is necessary before problem solving can begin.
Most fights begin with inner grumbling. It’s at a very low level, often below awareness. Each partner starts feeling the other doesn’t understand, respect or accept who they are. That’s when the urge to place blame usually starts.
When you notice you’re in the grumbling stage, that’s a good time to look out for the blaming impulse, and make a shift. Ask yourself what’s wrong, and what you need.
There are two healthy places to look for answers:
1) Internally — work on your own thought patterns.
Ask yourself, am I being fair to my partner? What is my role in this conflict? What steps can I take to manage things differently? What can I do to work on my own actions or reactions?
Own up to your part in things. Share what you can. Then ask “What is this like for you?” It takes courage to open up.
2) In Partnership — read each other’s emotional maps.
Before you get to the problem solving, find out what is happening for each of you. It’s tempting to want to rush past the uncomfortable part. But this is where the resolution begins.
Listen to your own sadness and fear and what you care about. Share it with your partner. Explain so your partner can hear, without a whiff of faultfinding. Slow things down enough to hear your partner’s story. Find out what’s behind your partner’s point of view.
The emotional connection you make now empowers you to join each other on the same side of the problem, and solve it as allies, not as enemies.
The Best Answers Come When You Know Your Partner Cares
In our very pragmatic world, slowing down does not seem efficient somehow. But we starve our relationships and ourselves when we rush to solutions too fast. Caring about the other person’s experience really matters.
Taking time to process your emotions alone, then together, makes all the difference. You go from being adversaries, to being partners and co-creators of an outcome that works for both of you.
By naming what’s bothering us, we tame it. When you understand your own thoughts and feelings, you can become more clear and understandable to your partner. Clarity is comforting. You both have a chance to respond differently when you feel understood, than when you’re feeling attacked.
Deeper connection follows when you experience each other’s care. Caring deepens trust. You feel encouraged. Your relationship becomes a safe place to speak up and be yourself. Together you can be open about what you need, and help meet each other’s needs.
Conflict is no fun. Of course you want to move through it as fast as possible. Once each person feels respected and heard, problem solving is a lot easier.
Mary and John can create a new situation that works better for everyone. Maybe they’ll agree to match what the kids earn from jobs that don’t pay much. Maybe they’ll choose to provide spending money on occasion. They might find other ways to have fun with friends.
The Big Win: Ending the Blame Game
It takes hard work and courage to slow down and look calmly into the raging thoughts and feelings that threaten to overpower your good will. You may find it’s helpful to work with a couples counselor. A good therapist can help you both gently explore what you need and how to share it that so your partner can hear.
By co-creating change in your relationship, you and your partner can turn discord into something that feels good, positive, and even beautiful.
5 Ways to Help Love Grow
The science of love shows us how to build and rebuild deeper connections. Learn 5 ways you can help your relationship grow and flourish.
If you liked it, share it — thank you for sharing.