Everybody Marries the Wrong Person

Turning Flawed into Fulfilling Relationships

The Three Best Reasons to Stop Blaming Your Spouse

Even when it really is his or her fault

When was the last time that blaming your partner accomplished anything other than escalation of negative emotions?  Even when it really is his or her fault, choosing not to blame your spouse offers short-term and long-term benefits.  In the short-term, you avoid ugly scenes, tantrums, and regrets.  In the long-term, you build self-responsibility.  Here are previews of the three best reasons to stop blaming your spouse:

1. Blaming triggers your partner's associations to childhood anxiety, anger, and shame.  So, why wouldn't he or she react like a child?

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2. Blaming reflects your own unrealistic expectations.

3. Blaming comes out of your own emotional immaturity.

Short-term benefits

Reason #1 - You can avoid triggering child-like reactions

Pointing out that blaming your spouse triggers associations to parent/child relationships is about like pointing out that cigarette smoking kills people:  

Both are well-established in psychological/medical literature;

Just about everybody knows it;

The people who are most in need of behavior change, don't want to hear it.

It is only human to react with negative emotions when we feel threatened.  A child's brain interprets an angry, punishing parent as threatening to the child's survival.  An adult associates (though, perhaps, not consciously) an angry spouse, who is demanding behavior change, with threatening childhood experiences.  In most cases, of course, interactions with spouses are best described as ego-threatening.  Exception:  If your spouse's behavior is, in fact, life-threatening, see previous post: Great Mistakes: The Big Six Red Flags, Parts 1 and 2.  

Key fact:  Remember, your brain doesn't know the difference between life-threatening and ego-threatening.  Threatening is life-threatening.  Whether you hear an explosion or drop your keys in the toilet, your brain's instant reaction is the same.

Then when your adult mind thinks - "This is awful, horrible.  I can't stand this!" - the brain signals for more releases of fight-or-flight hormones.  If you are the blamer, you are most likely experiencing a threat to your ego - peace-of-mind, desire for equality or respect, sense of fairness.  If you are the one being blamed, associations to potentially life-threatening situations, stored in the amygdala and right hemisphere, are triggered.  Well, you see where this is heading:  The brains of two adults interpret ego-threatening situations as life-threatening and react accordingly.

The antidote:  Choose to keep interactions on an adult/adult level.  Rather than speaking as an angry parent or defensive child, speak to your partner as you would to an adult friend.  Direct your brain, as you do when interacting with friends, to inhibit negative emotions and generate rational responses.  See previous post: How to Train Your Dragon.   

Long-term benefits

Reasons #2 & #3 - You can seize an opportunity to practice self-responsibility

If the idea of practicing self-responsibility in romantic relationships is new to you, here's a quick description of the concept.  Your relationship satisfaction, expectations, and emotional reactions are not your spouse's responsibility.  You are responsible for what you think, how you feel, and how you behave.

Even if your spouse's behavior seems blame-worthy, blaming reflects your own unrealistic expectations.  If you are unhappy with your spouse, examine your expectations.  Even if your expectations seem reasonable and fifty friends and family members agree with you, clinging to conventional expectations in the face of a partner's unwillingness to change feeds dissatisfaction.  See previous post:  Are lowered expectations the key to happiness?  

Even if your spouse's behavior seems blame-worthy, blaming comes out of your own emotional immaturity.  Did you know that emotional maturity does not automatically come with age?  According to 21st century findings about brain development, our brains are not fully wired for key functions of emotional maturity - inhibition of negative emotions, judgment, rational thought - until we are 25-26 years old.

We may take on the responsibilities of adult life - choosing a life partner, earning a living, furthering our education, raising children, saving for retirement - without being or becoming emotionally mature.  Like every other truly valuable life skill, gaining emotional maturity takes determination and practice.  See previous posts:  How to not take it personally and Walking the path alone: Self-responsible spouse.

The Antidote:  Practice revising unmet expectations and taking command of negative emotional reactions.  See previous post: How to Train Your Dragon.

For more about the book, visit everybodymarriesthewrongperson.com 

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person.

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