Alan Rudolph - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

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Seven Good Reasons to Blame Your Partner (And Why None of Them Are Good Enough)

Seven Good Reasons to Blame Your Partner (And Why None of Them Are Good Enough)

Robert Solley

Reason #7 — It’s Easy!
Under stress it’s often easier to see what someone else is doing wrong than what you are doing wrong. It’s easier to see the food stuck in your partner’s teeth than your own. To see your own you would first need to locate a mirror and then look into it. And then you would need to open your lips to be able to see your own teeth. And we’re not even talking yet about finding the motivation to locate and look in the mirror, much less to expose the ugly condition of your teeth to yourself.

Reason #6 — It’s Fun
Well, OK, maybe not fun fun. But it feels good at some level. At it’s worst, blaming someone else feels good in a vengeful, “I gotcha” kind of way. More often there’s a venting, energy-release part that’s somewhat satisfying. But then there’s another part feels not-so-good, in an out-of-control, guilty kind of way. However, even the bad part of this feeling may be more comfortable than it should be. For example, how you would you feel right at that point if you really took responsibility for whatever part of the conflict was yours.
Because there’s almost always some part that’s yours.
To really take responsibility you might have to fight through a wall of shame. In the moment, that would be painful — to really acknowledge that you did something wrong, were bad, screwed up, were unthinking, or whatever it might be. See Reason #5!

Reason #5 — Accepting Responsibility and Feeling Bad Are Hard
This is a corollary to Reason 2. What makes accepting responsibility especially hard is shame, which most of us feel to varying degrees (psychopaths are an exception). This is the feeling that fundamentally we aren’t good enough as human beings, that we’re flawed, inadequate, broken, defective…need I say more? So if we start to accept the idea that we might have done something a little wrong, for some it can tap into this big pool of “I’m all bad.” And that just feels awful! Since the function of shame in society is to act as a sanction against violating important social norms, it leaves one feeling alone. At its worst you can feel totally isolated in your badness, cut off from any possibility of love from anyone else, for eternity. Wow, no wonder it feels better to blame your partner! But wait, there’s more…

Reason #4 — We’ve Been Taught All Our Lives to Blame
Starting as little kids we were taught right and wrong — and especially wrong. First by our parents, and then by our teachers through the long years of school into adulthood. Right and wrong behaviors, right and wrong answers, right and wrong everything. That highlighted and underscored those feelings of shame for the most significant, tender formative years of our lives (to say nothing of adulthood). We also learned that if you can successfully deny it, or push the responsibility off onto someone else then you don’t have to feel that shame as much. “I didn’t do it, Gertrude did!”

Reason #3 — We Use Ourselves As the Standard
We each tend to think that “The way I do it is the best way.” Of course! We’ve spent our whole lives improving on (or working against) what our parents taught us, so this must be the way to do it! Perhaps the only way to do it! “If you would only do it my way!” Well, it turns out there are lots of ways to do things, and in many cases either it doesn’t really matter, different conditions may demand different ways, or at any rate it’s probably not worth losing your relationship over. But giving up ideas, beliefs, or ways of doing things, can be scary. It can feel like something terrible would happen, or you might lose yourself.

Reason #2 — It’s Hard to Fully Accept That Your Partner Is a Different Person
This is a corollary to #3. Things would seemingly be much easier and smoother if your partner just thought about and did things the way you do. But your partner is a different person, with his or her own ideas, personality, and habits. At some level we’re aware of this, but too often if our partners do something differently from how we would, we feel anger and frustration. And we bolster our anger will all manner of justifications and rationalizations. “But my way really is better. No, really.” And sometimes it is.
But how much of the time is it worth sacrificing your relationship for being right, or wanting your partner to respond the same way you do?
Coming to terms with those differences can be painful, can make you feel separate from them, can scare you that maybe you and your partner are too different after all. But it can also bring you closer in the long run if you can talk about and learn to accept each other’s differences.

Reason #1 — It’s Animal Nature to Bite Back
When we feel criticized or blamed it’s natural to criticize or blame back. This is an extension of our protective reflex to attack sources of physical threat or pain. So it makes perfect sense that when we are hurt emotionally we would try to hurt back in an effort to relieve our own pain. This instinct may be one of the most powerful forces behind blame, and especially the kind of reflexive retaliatory blame that gets us stuck in miserable escalating fights. Our best intentions can be little match against mother nature’s hard-wiring. But again, we can become more self-aware, learn the signals that precede blaming, and do something else instead.

Why None of These Reasons Are Good Enough
Think of a time when you have felt blamed or criticized. Remember how it felt inside? Think of a time when you were in a fight with your partner. Chances are, at least part of what you were feeling was blamed, criticized, hurt, and angry. Now think of how you felt the next day or perhaps days later (assuming that you did have some recovery from that fight). Remember how much more clearly you could think about the topics, how much broader your perspective was? Remember how much more you could think about your partner’s point of view in a more open way? Perhaps you were even able to come to some resolution with your partner in that calmer place. If not, or if it’s hard to even get to a calmer, clearer place after a day or so, then perhaps the pain you are causing each other is becoming chronic and this would be a good time to seek counseling.

When we feel blamed, criticized, or misunderstood, the feelings of hurt and anger take over our minds and bodies, making it almost impossible to have a decent conversation. Not only are we unable to think clearly, but it becomes much more difficult to really listen to our partners. Furthermore — since it is natural to retaliate in an effort to get relief from the pain, we strike back, inducing all of those same bad feelings that we are having in our partner. So now we are both not only impaired, but caught in an unpleasant cycle with each other that’s only getting worse.

Knowing how bad it feels to feel blamed or criticized, and knowing how it cripples the conversation and relationship, wouldn’t it seem worthwhile to learn to retrain those reflexes? Here are two alternatives to think about next time:
  • Identify and name your vulnerable emotions. Anger and frustration are usually the easiest to name — and better to name them than to act them out. But they are not the most vulnerable feelings. See if you can locate some sadness (loss) and/or fear and talk about those.
  • Push yourself to have compassion for your partner. Are they having a bad day? What other stresses are acting on them? What vulnerabilities do they have or are they guarding? Is this a pattern that was adaptive for them in childhood, in the face of painful events back then?
Learn to catch your blaming tendencies before they come out and hurt someone — especially your partner.

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