Blame & Defensiveness Damage Relationships

Conflict is unavoidable. We all face it daily whether with a spouse, sibling, friend, employer, boyfriend, girlfriend or stranger. Blame is one element of conflict that tends to inhibit conflict management.

What is Blame?

When viewed from one perspective, blame is the placing of responsibility on the object or person with whom we are in conflict.  If angry at an object, perhaps you throw it, break it, or maybe become outwardly angry verbally, shout an expletive or at the very least clearly make known your dissatisfaction. (Needless to say, an inanimate object couldn’t care less about what we are feeling.)

Or one spouse says to the other about an acting out child: “It’s YOUR fault he/she acts that way because you never tell him/her no! You don’t set limits!” Typically the blamed one feels defensive and offers the following response: ” No, it’s YOUR fault! I don’t set limits any more because YOU always undermine me!”

A common retort to that is: “Oh, I know, it’s always MY fault–you never do ANYthing wrong. All you can do is blame. Heaven forbid you actually deal with the problem.”

What Blame Does

  1. Focuses responsibility on the blamed one, not on the problem.
  2. It attempts to answer the question: “WHO did “X,” versus WHAT do we do about it.
  3. Blame implies the desire to punish.
  4. Focusing on blame misses the opportunity to resolve the conflict.
  5. Assumes there is no responsibility on the BLAMER’S part.
  6. Blame prolongs the conflict.

What To Do Instead of Blaming

  1. Calmly bring up what the REAL ISSUE seems to be, as you see it.
  2. If you aren’t sure what the real issue is, ask the other to help you determine it. When people feel employed to help out, there is a much greater tendency toward cooperation, it feels less threatening, and is often very much appreciated.
  3. Sometimes, if we have a tendency toward defensiveness, we hear blame when it’s not there. If you think you’re hearing blame, recap what you heard, request that the speaker say their message again in a different way, so that it might be easier for you to hear.
  4. Discuss your own responsibility or role in what has occurred. This gives both of you a better shot at not feeling blamed and, therefore, not defensive. This will allow you both to focus on the problem instead of each other as the problem.
  5. Consider offering the following to your partner: “I can see we both want to blame each other for this. For now let’s just take one issue at a time, and when we’ve given it the attention we we’re satisfied with,  we can come back to what it is we are each responsible for, and discuss those things one at a time.”

This is hard work for most couples, so take heart.  And don’t be shy about seeking counseling as a way to break this particular pattern, and bring the closeness back to your relationship.

Contact Dr. Hutt

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