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
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
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.