“You’re the reason ______.”
“You always ______.”
“If you didn’t _____, then I ______.”
These are just a few phrases we use when we’re blaming our spouse. It’s so easy for even the best relationship to get stuck in the blame game. Pointing out fault in another, before seeing or noticing your own contributions, is a deeply ingrained instinct that we all struggle with at times!
What is the common thread in the statements above? The word you. You, you, you. In this second article in our series on common problems in marriage and couples counseling, we’re going to analyze the blame game – and think about ways we can leave it behind.
How “The Blame Game” Can Destroy Marriage
It’s easy to instinctively blame our spouse – for big things and small things, important things and non-important things. As Matthew 3: 5-7 puts it, we often notice the “speck” in someone else’s eye before we notice the “log” in our own.
Matthew 3: 5-7 (ESV): “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
Sometimes this is due to pride. Maybe we aren’t practicing self-awareness. Maybe the pain or hurt caused by our spouse is so deep that we stop realizing how our own faults have contributed to the situation. Or, we genuinely feel that we’ve done nothing wrong. Regardless of why we participate in it, the blame game can destroy a marriage if we think the other person is the only one “in the wrong.”
When we blame our spouse, several outcomes may occur.
- Our spouse may start to feel like they can’t do anything right, which nurtures a sense of hopelessness, failure, or poor self-esteem.
- Using words like “you never,” and “you always,” in situations where it’s not completely true, may make our spouse feel that we are being dramatic or not perceiving the situation fairly.
- Tension in the relationship may increase, and it becomes harder to emotionally connect with our spouse.
- The more we blame, the more negative emotions build. This leads us to easily forget the good things about our spouse, and reinforces the tendency to focus on the negative.
But here’s the good news:
You Don’t Have to Let Blame Erode Your Marriage Relationship
Just because blaming is instinctive, doesn’t mean we have to let it erode our relationships. Here are some practical steps you can take to continue investing in one of the most important things in your life — your relationship.
- Answer the following questions:
- When things are tense in your relationship, how do YOU respond?
- In what ways is YOUR response difficult for your partner?
- Practice self-awareness by taking a step back and reviewing situations with a clear mind. We often enter the blame game in the heat of the moment, as an “add-on” to anger, fear, or sadness.
- Incorporate more “I’m sorry’s.” Not the meaningless “I’m sorry” for bumping into your spouse, but the heartfelt “I’m sorry” when you realize your own contribution to a situation. Saying you’re sorry shows your spouse that you can put aside your pride. It shows them you are practicing self-awareness and are willing to admit your mistakes. This fosters healthy and open communication between you and your spouse.
- Read the first article in this series, on Pain and Hurt, to continue learning more.
Marriage Counseling can help you overcome the Blame Game
Couples therapy provides a safe environment to work through situations of blame and increase our own self-awareness. Self-awareness is an important skill. We must reflect on our own contributions to a situation. Most of the time, our spouse is never 100% to blame. Even if our contribution seems like only 10% of the problem, it’s important to recognize that 10%.
For example, we must learn to distinguish “influenced” from “forced.” No one forces or demands that we react in certain ways. We must continue to take ownership of our tendencies, actions, and reactions. Marriage counseling is a great way to fuel this learning.
Learn to “Stay In your Circle” while working on your marriage.
In marriage counseling, couples may learn to “stay in your circle” as certain programs talk about. This is all about controlling what you can control. You can control what’s in your circle, but you cannot control what’s in your spouse’s circle. Changing your own actions – and reactions – is a huge component of improving a marriage. Each spouse must believe that changing their own actions and reactions, regardless of what their spouse does or does not do, can help improve a marriage.
Though “staying in your circle” is a simple concept, it’s hard to do. It’s almost like asking a fish, “What’s the water like?” Our own actions are so “normal” to us, that they are often not even acknowledged. If we’ve said or done something so many times, our brains don’t even have to “think” for us to repeat that same action again. Counseling helps us acknowledge. It helps us bring thought processes that have become subconscious, back into consciousness. Marriage counseling helps us see how we’re influenced by our spouse’s actions, while taking responsibility for and changing our own actions.
*Disclaimer: When referring to “the blame game,” we are not referring to situations where you’re the victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. You are not to blame for experiencing extreme abuse. If you feel you are in immediate danger of being harmed, call 911 or seek out resources for shelters in your area.
Begin Marriage & Couples Counseling in Greenville, SC
At Wellspring, we are committed to empowering greater health in your closest relationships. Learn more about our options for Marriage and Couples Counseling, or read about many of our skilled counselors. Contact our Greenville, SC counseling clinic if you are ready to talk about your unique situation.