Have you or your partner ever used these phrases and then expected the other person to talk about a subject…
“You should have. . .”
“You could have . . .”
“Why didn’t you . . .”
“You never (or always)…” and
“If only you’d . . .”
If you’ve ever used (or heard) words or phrases like the examples above…
You or your partner probably found out pretty quickly that the only thing that happened was that you both closed down to one another and NOTHING got resolved.
There are many reasons why you might use these phrases that sound blaming and judging especially with an intimate partner.
Much of it is done unconsciously out of habit and arises from resentment.
You or your partner may have parents who blamed and judged and it feels “normal.”
There might be the unconscious or conscious idea that the more you blame, judge and prove that you’re right, the more likely he or she will change and do what you want.
Never happens that way, does it?
No matter what reasons you find yourself using, fear is at the bottom of blaming, judging and the need to be right…
–Fear that your needs won’t be met
–Fear that you’re not enough
–Fear that you aren’t who your partner wants you to be so you try to make yourself into that person
And all this blaming and judging (whether conscious or unconscious) erodes the trust that is so precious to a relationship.
We’ve discovered that pointing a finger outward, blaming and judging someone else, allows a person to hide from looking inward at themselves and their life.
One common pattern that we’ve seen between two people is when one person is the criticizer and the other person is trying to work hard to get approval, while expecting criticism.
The important thing to realize is that both people are part of the relationship challenge, by playing the martyr and/or the victim-and these roles can shift from moment to moment.
In our view, when you start blaming, judging or feeling that you are right and the other person is wrong, you have two choices:
- To continue to act out of fear and entrench yourself as the martyr or victim, telling all of your friends or the other person (over and over) how he or she is wrong and you are right; Or
- You can begin the healing process by giving up needing to be “right” and spend your time and energy on looking inward to see your part in the drama. Then you’re better able to open and invite your partner to open so that you can see something different. Then you’ll “see” the next step to take.
(And opening doesn’t mean agreeing or being a push over!)
The Victim or Martyr
If you are being criticized and allowing yourself to become the victim or even the martyr, you can either stay stuck or decide that you will stop the “dance” that the two of you are doing, and begin to create ways to trust each other again.
In some cases, it may not be possible to heal the relationship, but you will heal yourself when you let go of blame and grudges.
Here’s an example from our lives…
When we were first together, Susie was trying to do a project around the house and she wasn’t able to complete it.
In her frustration, she said something to Otto that sounded like a disgruntled 3-year old, indirectly blaming him for not helping her fix the problem or doing it for her.
Otto was triggered by what she said and angrily told her he would take over the project and do it himself.
Here’s where many people in relationships (and us) get stuck in situations like these.
They get ‘stuck’ in blame, judgment, anger and insecure thinking…
Instead of getting ‘stuck’ and feeling disconnected for days like we had done in the past, we broke the pattern.
Once we realized where this blaming was headed and saw that we didn’t have to believe our thinking…
We recommitted to regaining our connection and building the trust between us.
We both quickly realized that we needed to not trust our mind chatter and old beliefs.
We helped each other by openly and honestly talking about this (and listening without defensive interrupting) and that led to some powerful observations about our patterns of the past.
Even though our agreement had been that Susie would fix the problem, when the job became difficult, she fell into the old, unconscious pattern of the little girl wanting “daddy” to fix it–without asking.
We realized that Susie was playing a role she’d seen her mom do many times in the past.
When things got tough, she expected Otto to step in and automatically take charge of it (without her asking), as her father and ex-husband would have done.
But when Otto didn’t play along, she became angry and frustrated.
Otto also fell into the familiar role he had played many times before in similar situations.
Susie’s comment triggered him to react as his father reacted with anger when a job had to be done and he assumed it was all on him to do it. He had played this role with his ex-wife as well.
With this new information, we then consciously decided how we wanted to resolve this situation and also, how we wanted to deal with similar situations when they occur in the future.
We made an agreement that when we went into this pattern, we would each not jump into old patterns but rather ask for what we needed instead…
And if we don’t at first see the pattern, acknowledge it when we do.
And this is what we’ve done although it is a moment by moment decision to communicate in this way.
The truth is that for each of us, this was old thinking that we no longer had to believe or act out.
And the truth is also that you can stop the blame, criticism and reactions before these patterns destroy trust and your relationship.