What usually happens when couples fight? It’s tempting to think, “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?
Blame happens. But it doesn’t help solve relationship problems. You can shift that energy into something better.
Here are 7 steps to banning blame from your relationship:
1) Know That Blame Is Really Based In Fear
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.
2) Let Heated Emotions Cool Off
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.
3) Check the Story You’re Telling Yourself
It’s normal to imagine your partner’s reasons for what happened. Is that story the whole truth? Is it proof your partner doesn’t love you, when they set you off?
What information do you need to trust your partner’s love?
Share the story you told yourself when you felt hurt. Yes, this means being vulnerable. It takes guts.
Name the feelings and needs you find. This step is key to helping you and your partner understand each other.
Blame 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.
4) Realize That Trying to Change Your Partner Won’t Work
Why doesn’t it work to give helpful tips to your partner?
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. Advice sounds like criticism. That’s one of John Gottman’s four horsemen that threaten relationships.
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.
5) Put Understanding Ahead of Solving Things Fast
Look for the feelings. Make hearing and understanding each other a priority — before problem solving.
Yes, this isn’t easy. We love being practical. So, slowing down may seem like too much bother at first. But we starve our relationships and ourselves when we rush to solutions too fast. Caring about the other person’s experience really matters.
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.
6) Be Willing to Help Each Other Feel Understood
The best answers to your conflict may start popping up when you each feel how much your partner cares.
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.
7) Co-Create Connection
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.
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.
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