There are times when someone is to blame for a situation. An admission of blame, accepting responsibility and making an apology are extremely important in a marriage relationship. Those are times of rational blaming and are not what this article is about.
What I want people to stop doing is the irrational blame that creates the blame game. Dr. Neil Farber writes that "Chronic blaming is a form of emotional abuse ...
[and] blaming reduces intimacy."
When people are very stressed or anxious, they either fight, run away, or blame someone for what is creating the stress or anxiety in their lives and marriage. You've probably heard it: "He did that. She said this. It's not my fault." Dr. Farber believes the blame game is learned at an early age, "even before we develop verbal abilities."
The problems could involve neighbors, in-laws, kids' school grades or behavior, finances, jobs, a health crisis, a messy house, etc. and probably include finger pointing, justification, bickering, making excuses, dodging accountability, and a lack of talking through the problem. That's all part of the blame game. The blame game is a way to avoid taking responsibility for problems in life.
Scapegoating is another word for the blame game. In reality, no matter what you call it, blaming or scapegoating becomes a vicious circle with no end to it other than giving you a reason or an excuse to end your marriage.
You can make it through the difficult times without hurting your marriage or one another by not falling into the trap of blaming one another.
How to Avoid Playing the Blame Game
- Don't Cop Out - Saying you just can't help it because blaming your spouse is built into your DNA is a poor rationalization of being hurtful. You can stop blaming your spouse and others. You just have to want to stop doing it.
- Pause - Count to ten or twenty or fifty before saying something you could regret.
- Don't Criticize - Tearing down your spouse's self-image isn't going to solve the issue or problem. Being disappointed or frustrated in some circumstances is pretty natural and complaining will happen. But keep the complaining to I-focused statements and don't whine!
- Avoid Saying "You Should ..." - Putting the "should" word into your conversation about a tough issue will only make your spouse defensive and angry.
- Identify and Support - The psychiatrist character in the movie gave good advice: "... figure out what you want and learn how to ask for it." Do you want some time alone? Do you want a hug? Do you want to hear that you as a person are okay? Do you want to know that you truly can work through the issue together? Ask your spouse.
- Recognize Hot Spots - Every marriage has issues that can stir up negative thoughts and feelings. You know what they are. Don't mesh these hot spots into a current issue you two are trying to resolve. That only complicates the issue.
- Have Possible Solutions - Don't just complain. Have solutions for the situations that are causing you concern or frustration.
- Review How to Argue - Having an argument and disagreeing with each other does not have to hurt your marriage if your follow the guidelines for fighting fair.
- Ask Questions - Have "the talk" with your spouse, ask questions, and together brainstorm what is creating the rocky road in your marriage or life.
- Go Easy on Yourself - Self-blame isn't good for either your marriage or yourself. Sure, everyone has some regrets, possibly even some shame about things in the past. Try to let go of those self-judgments.
Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D.: "One of the most destructive human pastimes is playing the blame game. It has been responsible for mass casualties of war, regrettable acts of road rage, and on a broad interpersonal level (social, familial and work-related), a considerable amount of human frustration and unhappiness."
Source: Elliot D. Cohen. "Stop Playing the Blame Game." PsychologyToday.com. 7/29/2012.
Neil Farber, M.D., Ph.D.: "Complaining and Blaming are both signs of insecurity and of giving up personal control.
They both inhibit our ability to achieve our full potential and to succeed. Blaming and Complaining both inhibit productive relationships and limit our ability to get emotionally close to others as they know that we are criticizing their behavior and attitude. Finally Blaming and Complaining are disempowering. They are the fastest ways of removing our control and our energy as we shift responsibility. They steal our optimism, hopes, dreams, creativity, joy and gratitude; replacing them with fleeting periods of satisfaction - not a great trade."
Source: Neil Farber. "To Complain or Blame: Is That the Question?" PsychologyToday.com. 11/13/2010
And Lastly ...
No matter what the problem or issue is, try not to place blame. Blaming poisons your marriage relationship. If your wife is cheating on you, sure, she is responsible for being an unfaithful spouse. If your husband is spending more than your budget allows, he is responsible for his over spending.
But when bad choices are made individually or as a couple, it is important that the two of you are willing to ask the question "How could we have handled this differently?" and to ask that question without blame.
Neil Farber: M.D., Ph.D.: "The less you blame the happier you'll be ... When you combine the no-blaming benefits of increased happiness, optimism, and a positive attitude with improved relationships, a strong marriage, greater success in business, and achieving and actualizing your potential you can't help but gain the respect from those around you."
Source: Neil Farber. The Blame Game: The Complete Guide to Blaming. 2010. pgs. 128-129.