Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
When something bad happens, it’s only human nature to want to blame someone for causing, or at least allowing, the bad thing to happen.
“If only you hadn’t . . .”
“Couldn’t you have just . . .”
Or maybe the most direct approach:
“It’s all your fault!”
First, allow me say this: I am not blaming you for placing blame. The blaming thing seems to be something we humans are hardwired to do. (At least until we decide to stop. More about that later.)
What I think is that the blame game has special meaning for individuals who are living with a chronic condition. Here’s why: With a chronic condition comes lots of uncertainty. You might all too frequently ask yourself, “What am I going to have to deal with next?” And when a curveball comes flying in your direction: “Now exactly what caused this?” Our minds tell us that if we can identify the causes, then maybe we can also figure out how to avoid that bad thing happening again.
Makes sense, right?
Placing blame can take a big toll on your relationship
As we cast about to identify the causes of our problems, it’s only human nature that we might also identify people around us who, it seems, could have helped prevent whatever bad thing happened. “That’s important! Why didn’t you remind me?” Or, “Doesn’t this always happen when you . . .?” We might even look for who we think most likely caused the problem to occur. “You should have known that was going to be too much for me. Why did you ask me to do it?”
The result? You have singled someone out for blame. And most likely, it’s the person you’re standing closest to. This person is often your partner.
Placing blame on your partner has a few costs. It leads to hurt feelings and arguments. Over time, constant blaming can also create a “walking on eggs” atmosphere at your house, which can lead to avoidance.
That’s right. Placing blame may feel good at the moment. But it can drive a wedge between you are your partner.
Is the urge to blame creeping into conversations at your house? Here’s what you can do:
Breathe. The urge to blame is often accompanied by anger or frustration, which results in lots of other intense feelings. One of the best ways to keep these feelings from erupting all over the place is to take measured, calming breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Calming yourself down physically makes it more likely you will be able to react out of your best self. (Or maybe even choose not to react.) Yes, breathing before blaming may take some practice. It’s worth it.
Pause. Now that your emotions are under control, you’re in a better position to engage your brain. Some self-talk can be useful here, like telling yourself, “I’m frustrated right now, and it would feel really good to lay this right on ___’s doorstep. Could she/he have done something to help avoid it? Maybe, but if so, that doesn’t mean it was intentional on their part. And on the other hand, lots of things happen that neither of us can control.” In other words, take a time out and think before you blame.
Consider the cost. To your day-to-day peace at home. I identified the potential costs to your relationship with your partner if you give in to the urge to blame. You probably agree with me that those are some pretty big costs. So think about whether those are costs you want to shoulder. That may be reason enough to make you want to give the urge to blame a rest.
Look for the lesson. Avoiding placing blame on your partner doesn’t mean it’s not wise to take a step back and think about what might be at the root of a difficult situation or event. But cast a wide net. Is this something that needs to be addressed with your physician? Does your self-care routine or your regimen need to be addressed to prevent this in the future? Is this an opportunity for you and your partner to improve your communication? Do you need to work on being more patient with yourself so that, in turn, you can also be more patient with your partner? Somewhere in all of this, there may be a lesson. Along with an opportunity to make an improvement.
Take responsibility. For a couple of things. First, take responsibility for doing your share to maintain a peaceful and supportive environment. Including not being so quick to conclude that your partner is wrong. Second, take responsibility for doing everything you can do to take care of yourself. That might also mean not blaming your partner for something that you needed to have prevented or handled on your own. Sound like a plan?
You and your partner. How do you avoid the blame game? Perspective. Patience. Teamwork!
What has helped you and your companion deal with the temptation to blame? Share your experience and advice by commenting below.