Blame can be a really toxic thing in relationships.
Being on the receiving end of blame can be exhausting, exasperating and painful. It can make you feel tiny: like nothing you do is good enough or ever will be. It can break down your sense of trust in your partner and replace it with a growing sense of resentment and anger.
And, if it persists for a very long time, constant blame in a relationship can be a symptom of emotional abuse.
Why do we blame each other for things?
We often think of blame as being something we do when we’re trying to attack someone or make them feel bad - and, in some cases, this is definitely true.
But blame can also be a defensive thing. It can be something we do when we feel we aren’t being noticed or cared for in the way that we would want to be. And, even more commonly, it can also be something we do because we’re struggling to understand or deal with our own emotions - preferring instead to project them onto other people.
A woman who tells her partner: ‘You never listen to me’ may be expressing themselves critically, but, in another sense, they’re also communicating something: that they want to be heard. Likewise, a man who tells his partner ‘You don’t have any respect for me’ is perhaps exaggerating, or even choosing to ignore the times that his partner has shown their respect, but, again, is also expressing something else - a need that they feel isn’t being met.
This isn’t to excuse blame - clearly, this isn’t a productive way to express feelings and it can have negative consequences on the couple relationship - but rather to contextualise it, and give some indication as to why we so often turn to it.
Blame is actually one of - if not the - most common features of miscommunication in relationships, because it’s very often the instinctive response when we’re struggling to face up to our feelings - so many of us do this!
How can you deal with blame?
Simply put: you tell your partner how it makes you feel.
In some ways, this may sound like a pretty uninviting prospect. If your partner has been making you feel resentful - and particularly if this has been going on for a long time - you may feel totally disinclined to open up to them about your emotions. You may feel that doing so would make you vulnerable, and risk them making you feel even worse by being unkind or blaming you further.
And that’s not an unreasonable response. Sharing your feelings can make you vulnerable. But it can also be empowering. The key word here is ownership. Letting your partner know how you’re feeling may give make you feel exposed, but it also delivers a message: this is what I’m feeling, and this is what I don’t want to feel anymore.
As with many things in relationships, so much of this is about how you say it. Sometimes, expressing yourself simply is best. Tell your partner what you’re feeling, and stop there: ‘I’ve been feeling blamed recently, and I don’t feel good about that.’ Don’t apologise for how you feel, but equally, don’t turn this into an attack - ‘I’m feeling blamed because you’re always having a go at me’.
Beyond this, it’s about trying to have an open, honest conversation. Part of this will be letting your partner know how you feel and for them to understand the impact of what they’ve been doing. But the other part - and it’s important to remember this - will be hearing what they have to say, too.
Again, we know this can feel like painful territory if they’ve been making you feel bad - but, if they’re going to face up to the feelings that have been causing them to express themselves in this way, they’re going to need an opportunity to do this. After all, it’s only by both of you taking ownership of your emotions that true communication can happen. If you’d like some more tips on talking, take a look at our article on communicating more effectively.
Additionally - and this may sound challenging - it can be useful to think about the ways in which you’ve also contributed towards the situation. This doesn’t mean joining in with your partner and beginning to blame yourself for everything! It simply means trying to accept that, by not talking about things openly so far, you’ve also allowed this situation to continue - perhaps for a long period of time. Accepting this is an important part of recognising how things got to this point so you don’t have to go over the same territory again. And being able to express this will show your partner that you want this discussion to be a dialogue - not an attack.
One final note: although the ideas above will hopefully give you some context on blame and why it features in relationships, it’s not usually a good idea to use this information as part of this dialogue itself. People don’t usually respond well to being told: ‘I think you’re blaming me because you’re not taking ownership of your own emotions’ - this tends to feel like a judgement, and, in some ways, quite a personal one. Again, it’s about expressing what you’re feeling, not telling your partner what to do - so keep your focus simple.
What if I’m being blamed literally all the time?
If you feel like your partner’s behaviour goes further than the above - that, apart from expressing themselves unhealthily, they quite literally blame you for everything, from small things to big, then this could be part of a more problematic pattern of behaviour.
You may feel that, in additional to being critical, they’re simply unfair. You may feel that the blame is constant and wide-ranging - that they blame you for not doing your household chores well enough, then buying the wrong thing at the shop, then even for things that aren’t anything to do with you - their career, their mood, their other relationships.
If this is the case, it would imply that your partner is using you as something of an emotional ‘punch bag’ - blaming you as a way of making you feel small or in order to work out their own frustrations. Although you will know your circumstances better than anyone else, if a client came to one of our counsellors complaining of this, we would begin to wonder whether things have crossed into the territory of emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is behaviour that is controlling or coercive - behaviour that has the effect of making you feel you aren’t allowed to make your own decisions. And it’s not something that acceptable in any relationship.
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