A heterosexual couple sitting on a park bench. The park seems to be under construction with barriers and orange plastic fencing. The couple is dressed casually in jeans, boots, and leather jackets. The women is on the left facing away from the man looking upset. The man is sitting on the right with his head in his hands. The couple is being used as a representation of blame.

Feeling Stuck: Is Blame Keeping You Stuck?

‘If you just did…’
‘You never…’
‘You always…’

Are you familiar with blame? Blame criticizes or attacks the character of the other person.

I felt anger heat through my body, as it often does when I want to blame my partner, right from my toes all the way up to my neck.
I was running late and I couldn’t get the items out of the car trunk.
You see, if he hadn’t left the winter gear in the trunk, then I wouldn’t be late. All I wanted to do was blame my partner. He ALWAYS does this, is what my mind says.

Why do we blame?

For some partners, blame is a comfortable position. We blame at times because we are dealing with an uncomfortable emotion – we don’t like to feel pain, sadness, fear, or loss. So what we do instead is we discharge that pain – we put anger, frustration, and irritability onto our partners.

Another reason we blame is we are trying to create connection. Sounds counterintuitive, no? But you see, the idea here is that any connection – any response – is better than no response. Have you ever witnessed a small child melt onto the floor kicking and screaming? They are looking for attention and connection – no matter the type. The principal is the same.

Naturally, when you point the finger at someone else or you speak in definite terms (always, never), your partner gets their backup. By expressing your issues like this, there are limited ways to move forward.

In order to shift the blame – the criticism – we need to start accessing the softer emotions. The core emotions that are underneath the anger and frustration. We need to know that anger does not bring our partners closer to us – in fact, it works the OPPOSITE to the way we want it to, therefore only addressing the anger will not address the root cause.

So what do we do?

First: To help shift the blame, I like to use a soft start up. This could sound like “Hey, I have something going on, do you have a minute to talk about it?” Or share something you are struggling with.

Second: Give feedback with a positive need. Use “I feel” language and let your partner know what happens inside of you. Moving into some of the more vulnerable emotions – afraid that you’re not there for me; feeling overwhelmed and needing help – gives non-critical praclital feedback.

Third: We can also move into a complaint – it’s okay to complain – in the sense that we can say to our partners “the dishes aren’t done and I’m overwhelmed.” But not the other way around “you didn’t do the dishes.”

Be careful. ‘I feel like you never help’ is NOT a feeling – and it is the same as saying ‘you never help.’

So on the day when I was late, I chose to let my partner know that I was overall feeling overwhelmed with things and that I needed him to put the gear away. This conversation went much different than the one where I yell at him for “always leaving a mess.”

Interested in learning more? Check out the companion blog:

>> Feeling Stuck: The Power of a United Front
>> Feeling Stuck: Who’s On Defense?