One of the most fundamental parts of a relationship, I believe, is a feeling that everything that goes wrong in a relationship can be fixed. I aspire to what is known as a growth mindset in people and relationships, which is the idea that inevitably, people can change and things will work out despite problems they have and that couples can come out stronger for it. After all, this is why we get into relationships in the first place: to be with somebody who will support us unconditionally and help us through the tough times.
However, what happens when we start to blame our partner for everything that goes wrong in our relationship? What if we start to see them as the source of all of our problems? This is where the blame game starts to take over, and it can be a very dangerous road to go down.
It’s quite scary when you think about it but blame separates couples from their values, beliefs, and commitment to each other. It also clouds our thinking and stops us from seeing our partners and relationships objectively. Blaming our partner can lead to resentment, anger, and a feeling of helplessness. Suddenly, we’re not in a relationship anymore – we’re in a battle, and as soon as that happens, the growth mindset is out the window.
This is why the blame game can be so dangerous – because it causes us to stop seeing our partners as people, and start seeing them as the source of all our problems. We lose sight of the fact that they are just humans, like us, who are capable of making mistakes. We also forget that we are not perfect either, and that our partners have probably forgiven us for the mistakes we’ve made in the past.
When we start to play the blame game, it becomes all about winning. We want to be right, and our partner becomes the enemy instead of an ally. This is unhealthy because it causes tension in our homes and our heads, when we have to share a home (& a bed) with someone we’re at odds with.
Why We Blame
Blaming seems to be in our DNA, it’s part of how we think. Plainly put, attribution theory is the process of assigning someone’s behavior to a cause. In social psychology, there is a phenomenon called fundamental attribution error, which is a psychological concept that helps to explain why we blame our partners in the first place. The theory states that we tend to give more weight to internal factors when explaining someone’s behavior than to external factors. In other words, we’re more likely to believe that our partner is doing something on purpose because of their personality or attitude, rather than believing that something outside of their control is causing them to act a certain way.
In everyday language, this means when someone is behaving in a negative way or a way we don’t like, we tend to attribute their behavior to bad will rather than bad circumstances.
Let’s say your partner is late for dinner. Research shows that you’re more likely to think, “He just doesn’t care” than “traffic must have been awful. I’ll give you another example. If someone shows up dressed “unprofessionally” to a job interview, they’re unprofessional, right? Not always, but this attribution is often the easiest to accept. Our brains do not like to do a lot of work. They are constantly making meaning out of events, actions, and behaviors. If the brain can find an easy explanation for someone’s behavior or conduct, they will accept it.
At first glance, the idea of someone walking into a job interview dressed in jeans may seem unprofessional, but there could also be a ton of other reasons why they’re dressed the way they are. What if all their clothes were destroyed in a housefire and they couldn’t afford a new one? Or what if they thought it was a bold move that would make them stand out by focusing more on their skillset than their attire.
How to Stop the Blame Game
There are many ways to break the cycle of blame. However, it starts with recognizing that we are all human and that we make mistakes. We have to be humble enough to admit that our partner is capable of making a mistake, and that we are not perfect ourselves.
From there, we need to start communicating more effectively with our partners. This means listening more than we speak, and trying to understand their point of view, even if we don’t agree with it. It also means being willing to take some responsibility for our own actions, and not always blaming our partner.
Finally, we need to learn how to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re forgetting what happened or that we’re condoning bad behavior. It simply means that we’re choosing to move on and to focus on the present and the future, instead of the past. Blaming our partner is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
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