Who's to blame in my relationship?
In couple's therapy, and even in individual therapy if someone has a significant other, a common question that arises is, "Whose fault is it?" Blame is looking for a place to land, if it hasn't already. When blame occurs, it usually relieves one party from feelings of shame, guilt, frustration or annoyance because after all, it's not on them anymore. The most common response to addressing blame, "Well, I've done everything I can but he/she still won't change." This takes it a step further because one party not only feels free from blame, but now they are free from trying anymore. Their efforts haven't reaped the benefits they wanted or expected. Consequently the commitment to even trying is tossed out the window and there's only one person left in the relationship. One person is avoidant, one person is attacking. This doesn't sound like much fun.
Here are a few suggestions, synthesized from several therapeutic frameworks, to assist couple's to stop playing the blame game.
Usually when there is blame between a couple, someone feels as if they have lost their authentic voice. The "problem" is usually the symptom to many things going on below the surface. Getting stuck in the content of the presenting problem is a cycle that often can't be resolved because one or both partners aren't able to express what they REALLY, TRULY and DEEPLY feel. That conversation you're having with yourself that nobody else can hear, about all the things you wish you could say, that's the golden nugget! This is what really needs to be expressed in a healthy and productive way. Otherwise, it is continually repressed. (Repression is another issue I will write about soon). This type of non authentic interaction between you and your partner can lead to an attack - attack cycle where someone feels they have to win. I suggest stop playing that blame game because nobody wants to lose.
In order to share your real feelings, the stuff behind the "stuff", you need to trust your partner. One way you can approach this is to use "I" only statements, speak from the heart and tell your partner that this is vulnerable and scary. It's okay to acknowledge the fear. What you are doing is brave and hopefully your partner can see that, and appreciate it. If not, your defense mechanisms are most likely in place to rightfully protect yourself. But again, how long do you want to be in a relationship with the barriers?
If you can genuinely connect by offering up your own fears about communicating, then you can take turns stating how you feel, while the other person listens. Listening is key! Don't interrupt, point out what's wrong or defend yourself. It's best if the partner listening can be mindful and empathetic towards the other. Eventually it will be his or her turn to speak. The intention is to establish a real connection, on an emotional level, that leads to safety between two people. When safety is established, usually openness, empathy and compassion can follow. I suggest one person takes 5 minutes to speak, following 2 minutes of silence, then the other person speaks for 5 minutes. The words are only about what the person speaking feels, using "I".
"I feel so frustrated because I want to spend time with you." Instead of: "I'm frustrated because all you do is work and we never get time together."
"I feel that caring for the kids is too overwhelming. I'm tired." Instead of: "I feel overwhelmed because you never help with the kids, I'm doing it all by myself."
"I feel sad that I haven't had any alone time with you in months." Instead of: "I'm sad because you never make time for me."
It is not a time to attack the other person. We don't want anyone to be on the defensive. After the conversation, each person take 5-7 minutes to respond, saying how they felt hearing those words. Really take in what the other person says, try to imagine how that feels, close your eyes to walk in their shoes. It's about feeling one another. End the conversation here. It will bring up a lot of things internally and you need time to think about it, feel into it and be curious what it's about. In the coming days set aside some more time to express your true self, using time constraints. Right now it is only about creating a safe container. Once that's established, then you can go deeper!
If one partner has trouble taking an empathetic stance, the consequence is they may check out emotionally, start judging the other person or simply have an internal collapse, throwing in the towel. Keep in mind that if your intention is to TRULY love your partner and you want to be their trusted partner, than savor the moments when they are able to express their authentic voice. This is a gift. Hold it with care. From here you can start working on what's below the surface.
Losing one's voice can take a person out of the present moment, into a retreated place. I'm guessing you don't want your partner to be an enemy or a stranger. Blaming exacerbates the distance. Who is to blame? I'm hoping that doesn't matter anymore. A better way to reframe this question is, "What do I want out of this situation? How am I adding or taking away from getting that? How can I be supportive of you to share your authentic self with me? Can I support my partner in their feelings and empathetically understand their feelings are as valid as mine?" Working from a collaborative approach with the same intentions can increase safety, affection and security. Be patient with yourself, as this takes practice.
A book recommendation to explore this further: 'Hold me Tight' by Dr. Sue Johnson