Who’s to blame or the “problem” in your relationship?
Is it you?
Something or someone else?
If you’re like most people, your answer is probably pretty quick and definite…
When you are having challenges in your relationship or marriage, it’s pretty easy to think the problem is your partner or someone else and while there may be behavior going on that you don’t like, we’re betting there’s a whole lot more to it than that…
***QUESTION FROM A READER:
“I am certain that my husband is the ‘Problem’ in our marriage because of the way he communicates negatively and messes things up and he is certain that I am the ‘Problem’ in the relationship.
“How do we find out ‘who’ is causing the bad communication? I need to know who is causing it because I only get upset at the way my husband talks or handles our problems and not at the actual issue itself.
“How do we find out who is causing the problem even though I know we shouldn’t put the blame on each other, but I’m certain our relationship would be better if my husband handled things differently.”
What a wonderful question!
We don’t care how “enlightened” and “together” you are–
At some point in your life and in some relationship (maybe more than one), you’ve probably had this very same thought.
You may or may not have voiced it–but we’re guessing you sure thought it.
We know because we’ve certainly been there–even in our own relationship!
This thought we’re talking about is…
“If only he (or she) would do this (or stop doing this), everything would be okay!”
Well, if you’ve ever had this thought, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The good news is that because we all have different experiences and approach life differently, it’s pretty “normal” for couples (even those deeply in love) to look at the other person as being the problem in their relationship.
What happens most of the time is…
If things don’t seem “right” in your communication or relationship, you then start looking for all the possible reasons why.
When you start running down all the possible reasons, your mind (which loves to attach to stories) finds a story it can believe and hold on to.
We first look at ourselves and say “I didn’t do it” or “I’m not the problem” because what we said or did makes logical sense–to us.
When we figure out that we couldn’t have had anything (or not much) to do with a communication breakdown, we naturally start looking outside ourselves and think…
If I’m NOT the problem, then it must be my partner.
We rationalize–they’re the one that’s causing the problem.
Or so we think.
This is a scenario that plays out over and over in almost every relationship and it’s what we call the “blame game.”
Since it’s so normal–it’s very “fixable.”
The bad news is that in order to “fix” the problem, one or both of you have to let go.
It’s like you’re both holding onto a rope, with your feet firmly planted, bodies tensed and pulling with all of your might in two different directions.
No chance of getting the connection and love you want when this is going on!
In fact, just the opposite happens.
You get further apart.
It’s not uncommon for one person to get tired of pulling so hard and just give up–letting the rope go or giving in.
While they might have let go of the rope or given in, they have not let go of anger, resentment and the feeling of being right.
So even though one person “wins,” no one really wins because the two of you never truly come together and re-connect.
And if you both won’t let go of the rope, holding on for dear life, it’s just as painful for each of you.
So what do you do when there’s a stand-off and you don’t know what to do?
The two of us remember a particular situation that used to come up between us again and again.
Like our Reader, Susie thought the way Otto communicated was the problem.
You guessed it…
Otto thought the way Susie communicated was the problem.
Here’s the way it usually worked…
Susie: “Otto’s tone of voice is condescending and makes me feel like I am stupid.”
Otto: “Susie’s controlling and she makes me feel like it always has to be her way.”
It didn’t matter who started it or what the particular problem was, it was a stand-off and both of us felt like we were “right.”
So how did we get out of the blame game?
First of all, it’s never easy to stop doing what you are used to doing but with awareness, you can.
Old patterns are automatic and rule us whether we like to admit it or not.
So we’re not saying it’s easy to get out of your or our blame game.
What we are saying is that you have to look beyond your habitual thinking to allow the space for something new to occur to you.
You have to learn to communicate what’s going on within you or what’s important to you without blaming that other person.
Secondly, to get out of the blame game, you have to want connection more that you want to hold onto being right.
It just takes one to let go of the rope–but let go of it with curiosity and without anger and bitterness.
So the first thing the two of us did, that we recommend you do, is to change your question.
Change your question from “who” to “what.”
Instead of “who said this” or “who did this,” shift your attention to “what” is coming up inside for both of you and get curious about possibilities.
You might be saying, “I might be able to do this but my partner won’t”–and you might be right or you might not be.
All it takes is for you to stop blaming what he or she is saying or doing and admit what thoughts you are having about YOU while you open to something new occurring to you.
The truth is that you don’t have to believe those thoughts.
In our situation, we saw that no one could MAKE us feel a certain way–and that was a huge realization.
Then we told each other the feelings that were underneath our reactions.
When we started deeply listening to each other without defending, we quickly realized that how we appeared to the other person didn’t match how we were feeling.
Susie didn’t feel “controlling” even though she may have come off that way and Otto wasn’t feeling superior, even though his voice sounded that way to Susie.
We began to understand each other a little better.
We began to understand what we each do automatically when we’re triggered–and how that is perceived by the other person.
And this was NOT how we thought we were coming off.
We realized how we played off each other to create our particular stalemate–how we both “puffed” ourselves up when we felt like we were in danger of not getting our way.
Even though it was all an illusion!
Was this issue a deal-breaker in our relationship?
Maybe not a deal-breaker but it certainly could have destroyed our relationship if we had allowed it to stay that way.
So one great question to ask yourself (without blaming or shaming yourself) is one we heard a very wise person ask…
“How am I setting it up for this person to behave in ways I don’t like?”
Hint–look at your reaction when you get triggered from your partner’s point of view even though you might not think you’re doing anything.
If you start answering this question for yourself and making some new choices, you’ll see your blame game start to dissolve.
And you’ll see your love and connection deepen right before your eyes.