Almost invariably, the couples I work with come into my office caught up in the blame game.

Both partners try to convince me that they are in the right and their significant other is in the

wrong. It seems to be a common belief that, somehow, if both partners come to an agreement

on who’s to blame, the issue will be resolved.

This is only natural. We humans really dislike being wrong. It seems to threaten our sense of

self so profoundly that we’ll even jeopardize the serenity in our relationships to avoid it. The

problem is that it ultimately is unimportant when it comes to truly addressing the relationship

issue.

Blame is extremely toxic to relationships. It is irrelevant to the core issue and essentially acts as

a big distraction that does nothing but stir up resentment and raise each partner’s defenses. It

usually occurs when one or both partners don’t feel heard and are resorting to desperate

attempts to make their partner hear them. So if a relational conflict isn’t about who’s right and

who’s wrong, what’s it about?

It’s about the dance. It’s about how the partners interact. It’s about how they talk to their partner

and hear their partner. It’s about each partner learning what they can do to fine tune their

communication style to allow for constructive talks that actually solve the disagreement rather

than placing blame. How do we move from blame to focusing on the dance? There are many

ways, but I find a few to be particularly helpful.

1. Look at Your Part

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Even if, in your mind, you

are 99% right and your partner is 99% wrong, it’s your job to look at the 1% you did that was

harmful or unhealthy. Did you dismiss your partner’s feelings because you didn’t understand

them? Did you speak in a harsh tone? Did you resort to criticism? If you did, own it, and admit it

to your partner during a time when you are both calm. You’ll be surprised how much this can

lower another person’s defenses. It often gives your partner space to then admit to what he

or she did wrong (but it’s important not to expect this.)

2. Share Your Experience

Rather than talking about what your partner did and why it’s

wrong, talk about what you felt. Use the tried-and- true “I” statements. Rather than saying, “You

left the dishes in the sink again. That’s not what a husband should do.”, say, “I’m feeling

overwhelmed with all these dishes in the sink and could really use your help to clean dishes as

soon as they’re used.” One will put your partner on the defensive, and the other is less likely to,

and may even give your partner some insight into your emotional state that he or she wouldn’t

have had otherwise.

3. Take a Break

If things are getting heated in an argument and you’ve crossed the line into

assigning blame, STOP. Just stop. Arrange with your partner to take a break and discuss it at a

later date. Sometimes, this can cause a person to feel abandoned, so it’s important to say

something to the effect of, “This is getting too emotional, I need to take a 30-minute break. I

promise I’ll talk to you about it afterward.” When both partners take a break, it’s not uncommon

for each person to cool down and realize that, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t

matter whose fault it is. It often brings people to a place of calm and acceptance– especially if

it’s something small. If you still feel the need to discuss the issue after the break, the 30 minutes

apart (or whatever you need) will help calm you down and make it easier to perform steps 1 and

2.

These steps are not a cure-all, but they can often drastically change the dynamic of an

argument. At the very least, they will keep you out of blame. Blame does nothing to build a

mutually respectful relationship in which both partners feel equal. It causes defensiveness,

escalation, and all-around unhappiness. Ditch the blame game and try something new. Your

relationship will thank you.