One thing that I see come up pretty commonly in relationship counseling is defensiveness followed by the blame game. We are all familiar with it in our relationships. The thing to know is that it never helps. The tricky thing about blaming is it makes one person the victim who has no control and displaces all of the power on the other person. As Dr. Kevin Fall says, “Blaming is a transfer of accountability to the other person in the relationship for the issues. This enables a feeling of a total lack of control for the person displacing. If the other person is responsible for calming you down, you will always feel out of control.”
How to avoid the blame game?
Accountability is the key. Typically the blame game starts when people in a relationship feel a perceived threat. Typically there are physical cues that come with sensing a threat: your hands get sweaty, your face gets hot, chest gets tight, your voice raises, you get tense, your hear races.
There are also situational cues: finances, jealousy, in laws, sex, etc. When these things come up, it might be good to take a break and focus on things that help you to unwind. This could include healthy things like taking a walk, going in the other room and breathing deeply for 10 minutes to help relax, or coming back to the issue at a set time.
The key isn’t in always resolving every conflict, but rather in learning to better manage conflict. In Gottman counseling, you may even use something like the Gottman Blueprint to assist in the process of hearing your partner. The goal truly becomes to try and hear the truth behind what they are saying.
Example: Let’s say your husband accidentally left the garage door open. If this has happened previously, it can be a ripe issue for conflict. It would be easy for either party to launch into blaming. The challenge would be to look at the issue from a mutual perspective and say something like, “I came home and noticed the garage door open and it made me anxious. I know we both don’t want anything bad to happen. What ideas do you have that might help us to prevent this from happening in the future?”
If you notice in the example, the person presents a very straightforward complaint and request. This isn’t a harsh startup to an argument which would likely cause defensiveness and blaming. It is a good example in better managing conflict as it will inevitably happen. The result is often that the partner will accept influence in ways to problem solve. Yes, this is an example of a master couple in action, but the goal is to work on improving how you manage conflict and not to launch into venting your emotional accounting system of what your partner has done wrong. Many people do this and it takes work to get better at it. This is also an important reason to practice redo’s with our partner so you can navigate issues after the conflict is over with greater insight.
The downfall for many couples is focusing on winning as opposed to progressing
Emotional arguments are difficult to rationally work through. Our memories of events are colored by the emotion surrounding them and as a result, people will rarely agree on what happened leading up to an emotional argument. Each will have a valid subjective reality which is truly a partial reality. Both are somewhat right and wrong. The fantasy is people will remember it the same way. Memory is colored by the events of that week and then later by the meaning associated following the event.
If your relationship needs some help working issues like we mentioned above or learning new skills to deal with conflict, make a counseling appointment so we can help you learn to be a master couple! We also have other posts you might find interesting describing what marriage counseling is like, relationship warning signs, as well as learning how to fight right.