Placing Blame in Relationships: A Persistent Problem
By the time most couples seek therapy, we imagine the conflict has been brewing for one partner for a while. Rarely is it their first disagreement, and blame-based patterns have emerged. Partners often come to therapy feeling that the other person is to blame for all the problems in their relationship. Let’s take a moment to look at the couple Jenna and Henry as an example of placing blame on marriage and attempting to explore their story in more depth to see what can happen.
Blaming and Emotional Consequences: The Impact on Jenna and Henry
Jenna believes Henry is inconsiderate and uncaring and avoids taking responsibility, while Henry thinks Jenna is overly critical and always needs to be right. In this scenario, blaming the couple, focusing on the fault, and placing blame often leads the victim to emotional distress and feelings of defensiveness, anger, and hurt. For instance, when Jenna blames Henry for being late to a dinner party, Henry feels criticized and blamed and becomes defensive, further blaming and fueling their argument without anything to explain.
The Role of a Schema Couples Therapist: A Guiding Light
A couples therapist is not there to fix one partner of behavior or surgically remove partner-diagnosed problems. Instead, the therapist’s role is to listen and help both partners understand the underlying issues, behaviors, and emotions driving their conflicts. They serve as a translator, helping essential parts of the couple uncover the real-life issues behind their arguments and communicate effectively.
Understanding the Core Issues: Jenna and Henry’s Schemas
Schema-trained therapists look for schemas and worldviews developed in childhood that may no longer be accurate. Both partners bring many things, these schemas or skewed life perspectives, into the relationship. It is the therapist’s job to identify and deal with them and help each person in the couple understand the impact of their conflicts on relationships.
Jenna’s Abandonment/Instability Schema: A Source of Fear
Jenna grew up in a volatile environment, leading her to develop a strong Abandonment/Instability schema. This schema and behavior are triggered by anything to feel wrong about happening that looks like instability or a lack of care, causing her to act out to feel upset and fearful. For example, when Henry forgets to call and says he’ll be late, Jenna’s schema triggers lead her to act out to feel abandoned, afraid, and hurt.
Henry’s Defectiveness/Shame Schema: A Burden to Bear
On the other hand, Henry grew up in a family that valued high achievement and punished or ignored him if he did not meet their expectations. This led to a Defectiveness/Shame schema, causing most people around him to feel unworthy and acting as if he is never good enough. When Jenna criticizes him for not talking or doing things the way she wants, Henry’s schema is activated, making the person around him feel defensive and acting even more inadequate.
Breaking the Cycle: Creating a New Path for Jenna and Henry
Understanding these schemas and their impact on the emotional abuse of children and the couple and children’s interactions can help break the cycle of consistently placing blame in your marriage, take responsibility, and foster open communication. When Jenna and Henry understand each other and their children’s schemas and how they influence and control their behavior, they can work on resolving their issues, taking responsibility for their actions, and supporting each other and their children’s emotional needs.
Strategies for Overcoming the Blame Game: Tools for Success
- Practice open communication by listening and responding empathetically with an open mind. For example, when Jenna expresses her emotions related to abandonment, Henry can respond with understanding and reassurance rather than getting defensive.
- Avoid blaming or pointing fingers; focus on your feelings and emotions and admit when you are struggling. Jenna and Henry can share their feelings instead of blaming using “I” statements, such as “I feel hurt when you don’t call” or “I feel inadequate when you criticize me.” Neither partner needs to lose or feel blamed. They can both apologize and feel heard.
- Accept that both partners contribute to the relationship’s issues and work together to address them. Jenna and Henry can acknowledge that their schemas play a role in their conflicts and commit to working on them together.
- Develop self-esteem and self-worth by acknowledging and valuing each other’s perspectives and experiences while taking responsibility for times when hurt happened. Jenna and Henry can practice expressing gratitude and appreciation for one another’s unique qualities and contributions to the relationship.
- Practice honesty and vulnerability by sharing your fears, insecurities, and emotions with your partner. When Jenna and Henry open up about their schemas and the feelings behind them, they create a stronger bond and a deeper understanding of each other’s needs.
The Importance of Self-Reflection in Breaking the Blame Game
Another crucial aspect of overcoming the blame game in relationships is practicing self-reflection and taking responsibility. Examining your behavior, thoughts, and feelings can provide valuable insights into your contribution to the relationship’s conflicts and avoid blaming your partner for fault. In addition, self-reflection enables you to recognize any personal triggers, unresolved issues, behaviors, or patterns that may fuel the blame game, allowing you to address them proactively.
For instance, Jenna might realize that her Abandonment/Instability schema triggers her to react defensively when Henry forgets to call her when he’s running late. However, upon a moment of honest reflection, Jenna can see that her reaction stems from her past experiences rather than Henry’s genuine sense of fault or lack of care. With this understanding and perspective, she can address her schema and respond more calmly in similar situations.
Similarly, Henry might discover that his Defectiveness/Shame schema causes the woman around him to feel bad and overly criticized or, worse, blamed when Jenna expresses her feelings — part of blaming their partner. By recognizing this pattern, he can learn to separate his feelings of fault and shame from Jenna’s honest comments and build his self-esteem to better handle constructive feedback from the woman and partner.
Support from Loved Ones and Friends
While couples therapy is essential in overcoming the blame game, it’s also important to remember the role that loved ones and friends can play in supporting a couple’s journey. Encouraging open conversations, offering a listening ear, and providing non-judgmental guidance can make a difference in helping couples navigate their challenges. By surrounding themselves with a supportive network, couples can reinforce the positive changes they’re making in their relationship.
Recognizing Progress and Celebrating Success
Change takes time, and couples need to acknowledge their progress and celebrate their successes along the way. By recognizing each partner’s efforts to improve communication, build empathy, and eliminate blame, couples can strengthen their bond and reinforce their commitment to a healthier relationship. Small victories, such as successfully navigating a difficult conversation or recognizing a partner’s emotional needs, are worth celebrating as they pave the way for continued growth and development.
Building a Strong Foundation for the Future
As couples work to dismantle the blame game, they also lay the foundation for a stronger, more resilient relationship. By developing practical communication skills, fostering emotional understanding, and cultivating empathy, couples address their current issues and equip themselves with the tools needed to navigate future challenges. Investing in therapy and committing to change is an investment in a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling relationship that can withstand the test of time.
The Power of Empathy in Stopping the Blame Game
Empathy is another critical component in stopping playing the blame game and blaming your partner tells yourself. You can develop greater compassion and a sense of connection by putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and genuinely trying to understand their emotions and perspectives. Based on what your partner tells you, empathy allows you to see beyond the surface-level issues and recognize the underlying needs and feelings that drive and control your partner’s actions. As a couple, you avoid playing the blame game.
In Jenna and Henry’s case, empathy can help them understand that their partner’s words, behaviors, and actions are not intentionally hurtful or wrong but rather a result of their schemas and past experiences. When they approach each other with empathy, they can work together to address the root causes of their conflicts and create a more supportive and nurturing relationship.
The Role of Forgiveness in Healing Your Relationship
Forgiveness is another essential aspect of moving past the blame game and focusing on healing your relationship. Holding on to resentment and anger can prevent you from fully addressing the underlying issues and building a healthier partnership. Instead of blaming, by letting go of past hurts, taking responsibility, and working together to address the root causes of your conflicts, you can create an environment where love and trust can thrive.
Jenna and Henry can practice forgiveness by acknowledging the pain they’ve caused each other, taking responsibility for their actions, and talking and working together to find solutions. By offering genuine forgiveness and focusing on the future, they can relinquish responsibility, control, and the blame game and move forward as a stronger, more united couple.
Finding Real Change in Your Relationship: The Journey Towards a Healthy Relationship that Avoids Emotional Abuse
Through therapy, couples like Jenna and her partner Henry can learn to recognize and understand the root causes of their conflicts, taking responsibility and leading to real change in their partner’s lives and relationship dynamics to model healthy relationships. By focusing on open and honest communication, empathy, respect, and understanding, couples can break free from the blame game and build a healthier, more supportive partnership.
Take the First Step Towards a Blame-Free Relationship: Embrace the Opportunity for Healthy Relationships
As we’ve seen throughout this blog post, playing the blame game in relationships can be a destructive force that keeps couples stuck in a cycle of conflict and unhappiness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the help and support of a skilled couples therapist, you and your partner can uncover the real issues behind your conflicts, take responsibility, and learn to communicate more effectively to create a loving, supportive, and healthy relationship free from blame.
We understand couples’ challenges at Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling. We are here to listen, hear, and help you navigate them together. Our experienced therapists specialize in schema therapy for couples, emotionally focused therapy for couples, and Gottman Method Couples Therapy, offering a range of effective strategies and tools to help you break free from the blame game and rebuild your connection.
So, don’t wait any longer. It’s time to take control of your relationship and make the positive changes you deserve. The first step towards a healthier, happier partnership and life is a click away. First, book an online appointment with one of our dedicated therapists at Loving at Your Best Marriage and Couples Counseling. Then, start your journey towards a more satisfying, blame-free relationship. Your love story deserves the best ending; we’re here to help you write it.