Communication — 05 December 2006
How to abstain from blaming your partner

Many people tend to quickly assign blame to others for any mishap. Individuals talk of the hurt they feel when they are blamed for a life happening that they do not feel they caused. So, why are so many of us so quick to blame and why does being blamed feel so uncomfortable?

In childhood we learn that if we are at fault, our parents may be angry with us. Children instinctually know that pleasing the caregivers is essential for survival. Being less than pleasing may entail: punishment, reduction of benefits and withholding of love, all of which are dire consequences to be avoided. Inadvertently, children associate emotional and physical comfort with needing to be perfect.

One way to escape from being at fault is to find another party who could carry the blame. “He made me do it” is a phrase children use to direct the responsibility for the angering conduct to a sibling, friend, or even nature. Some excuses given to teachers such as: “The dog ate the homework, or “The wind blew the paper away”, are attempts to avoid shame and consequences.

As adults we still carry the notion that if we are responsible for displeasing others we can be viewed as blemished and thus unlovable. The latter is propelled by an intolerable inner fear of being undesirable. To quell this worry we do whatever we can to appear competent, helpful and valuable.

There are two major psychological ways people regularly defend themselves against failure. One way is by performing well for the reassuring admiration of others through wisdom, knowledge, status, money, or decent character that may earn them the security of personal worth. Another way is resisting evidence of weakness by assigning blame to others.

Most of the research on blaming in relationships is done in domestic violence couples where the abuser is blaming the victim for initiating the distress and even causing the abusive conduct. However, Drs. Scott of the University of Toronto and Dr. Strauss of the University of New Hampshire found that the dynamic of blaming may not be different for ordinary feuding couples. “An individual who blames his partner for beginning arguments may also be highly likely to assign blame for the actions he or she takes during the argument.”

“Why do you always start these fights?” “If you hadn’t done that, we would have been better off”, “Don’t ask me now, you are the one who got us into this mess”, “I didn’t have anything to do with this”, are examples of statements that are likely to create shame, pain and inadequacy for a partner. The hurt mate will withdraw from the other for safety and self-preservation.

Some healthy couples occasionally blame their partner when a negative outcome creates an inconvenience for them. But they quickly remember the core value of a good relationship requires that the esteem of both mates has to be safeguarded at all times. It does not matter who is responsible for a difficulty, it matters how best BOTH partners can resolve the hardship. The “we” must take precedence over the “I” to create a safe friendship and loving connection.

• Blaming is a destructive communication tool that defeats both partners. It is a harsh way to establish superiority over a partner and damages the emotional safety necessary for intimacy.
• Being harsh about a mate’s failings implies that one never commits errors or misjudgments.
• Blaming serves only to shame and devastate the partner and seriously damages the relationship.
• Concentrating on the inconvenience to you instead of the distress your mate feels about his/her error, is callous and disrespectful.
• Any problem your partner has becomes yours as well and needs to be resolved as a team. There are no individual purposes that are justified or well served by blaming a mate.
• Developing a habit of blaming the mate is hazardous to your relationship and may be a precursor to spousal abuse.
• If you are responsible for a mishap, admit your error and offer ways to resolve it now and prevent its recurrence.
• Even when you cannot see an obvious connection to your share of the problem, ask yourself and your partner how you may have indirectly contributed to the distress.
• Being supported at times of personal failure is the ultimate gift of a partner’s love.
• When both partners abstain from blaming each other, they can develop greater acceptance, love and intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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