“If only my partner would talk more/spend less money/stop being so needy, our relationship wouldn’t have all of these problems!”
Partners will often search for explanations for their ongoing issues, conflicts and failures as they try to make their relationships work, and come up with some version of this idea.
The solution’s nowhere near this simple. In fact, there are several flaws in this “solution.”
Blaming Creates Victimhood
First, the act of blaming makes one person the victim, and the other, the perpetrator. Sorry, gang…but in most situations, this just isn’t the case! Each of us can control one person and one person only – ourselves. Blaming your partner means that the relationship won’t ever change unless he does. This puts you into a helpless waiting game, and it creates resentment on your part, and defensiveness on his.
There should be some relief for most of you in realizing this. After all, who wants to be a victim? It’s a powerless state of being! Instead, isn’t it far more freeing – and empowering – to have some control in your relationship?
To gain this control, ideally you will keep your focus on looking at and dealing with your own issues, and work to be the best partner you can be. Ideally. But life’s often not “ideal,” and stress, bills, kids, work, and any number of day-to-day travails provokes less-than-ideal behaviors. This means that sometimes, you’ll mess up, and fall into the same old patterns. That’s okay, as long as most of the time, you try to keep the focus on changing yourself rather than trying to force your partner to change.
Blaming Perpetuates a Downward Spiral
Second, blaming keeps couples stuck in the same cycle of conflict. Think about it…do you believe that your partner is suddenly going to whack himself on the forehead and say, “Oh my gosh! I see what you’re saying! You’ve been right all along!” Not likely, right? And you probably won’t be having that kind of epiphany, either.
In reality, the more you and your partner argue your positions and blame each other, the more entrenched you become in your opinion, and the less you hear each other. You both also get increasingly defensive and resentful, which further assaults the health of the relationship.
Blaming Keeps the Focus on the Negative
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, shadows and light. In your daily interactions with your partner, you can look at him with a positive, appreciative lens or a negative, critical lens. When you focus on the negative, that’s what grows. There are always times when negative behaviors should be addressed, but for the most part, simply notice the sweetness and the love…and try to look past the negative. After all, isn’t that what you’d like him to do for you?
Critical Exceptions to the Rule
In certain situations, such as chronic infidelity, abuse, alcoholism or addiction, changing your behaviors won’t likely make a difference in the relationship. You can change your pattern of interacting in order to minimize conflict (a safety strategy often used by abuse victims or partners of addicts or alcoholics), but nothing you do will change these toxic behaviors in your partner. Lasting and healthy change in the relationship will only come with professional help and a deep commitment in your partner to eliminate the destructive behavior.