In relationships we can get stuck in a ‘blame game’. It’s a game of attack and defence that leads to a cycle that draws us into conflict. The game usually begins with one partner making a personal judgement about the other like “You’re so self-centred!”.
These personal judgements hurt, so the other partner gets defensive and throws back another hurtful comment like “I’m not self-centred! You are!” And then the game goes around in circles collecting every mistake and wrongdoing within reach to create a downward spiral. The blame game creates distance and makes issues even more difficult to resolve. It often leaves us feeling exhausted, misunderstood, and disconnected from our partner. It’s not a fun game.
There is a way to turn the blame game around. Even if only one partner knows the strategy it can still make a difference. The strategy requires one partner to swap out a ‘You’ and sub in an ‘I’. This reverses the downward spiral by changing the tone of the conversation. It can shift the game in a whole new direction.
When we swap ‘You’ out and sub in the ‘I’ it’s like a zoom lens. It moves the focus from a big picture personal attributions like ‘You always or you never’ about our partner to an up-close picture of our own feelings and needs in the moment. “You’re so self-centred!” becomes “I feel left out when you only talk about yourself. I need you to hear me.” When we focus on our own feelings and needs in response to the situation at hand, our partner feels less judged and doesn’t feel the need to defend. It creates room for a compassionate and understanding response that brings you closer together so the issue can be resolved.
Here are some other approaches you can try:
Stick to situational facts. Make observations about what is happening now and not comments about the person. For example, instead of saying “You always interrupt me” try saying “When I was talking just now, I wasn’t able to finish what I was saying.”
Notice and acknowledge your own feelings and make a request for what you need. For example, instead of throwing back a hurtful comment like “I’m not lazy! You’re lazy!” try “I find it hurtful when you call me lazy. I would like you to see the many things I do around the house.”
View emotional responses as unmet needs. An emotionally charged response can be a clue that your partner needs something. For example, when your partner says, “You spend too much time in front of the TV” what they might really mean is “I need you to spend more time with me.”
What would happen in your relationship if you both stopped blaming each other?