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Who’s to Blame?

“It’s not MY fault—YOU…” and so the argument revs up as blame is passed. It’s nothing new in marriage. In fact, blame goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Remember the story? The serpent (Satan) tempted Eve with the only fruit she wasn’t allowed by God to eat. Eve took it, ate a bite, and handed it to Adam who was right there with her, and he ate it as well.

When God showed up and asked what had happened Adam launched into a double-blame: “The WOMAN whom YOU put here with me….” And Eve just passed it along, “THE SERPENT….”

Why did they pass the buck and try to stick the blame somewhere else? For the same reasons each of us still does it: to protect ourselves from responsibility by projecting onto OTHERS what we need to own.

Although the consequences may have been the same, the story would have sounded much differently if Adam had simply manned up and said to God, “I failed to protect her from doing what I knew was wrong. Even further, I joined in and did what you told me not to do.” And if Eve had said, “I knew it was wrong, but I gave in to temptation. I’m so sorry.”

A phrase you’ve read in other posts by us fits well here: Your response is your responsibility. And it’s true for your spouse as well: Their response is their responsibility.

Blamers will often use excuses like:

“I’m justified”

The thought here is that they have somehow been treated poorly or done wrong by their spouse. The underlying premise is that “Because you did ________, I can now do/say/respond ___________.” There’s a degree of victim mentality and retaliation buried in self-justification.

“You’re worse”

This is simply self-righteous deflection. “I may be a little bit bad, but YOU are A LOT bad because YOU….” The blamer who leverages this excuse is adept at shaming their spouse.

If you recognize this in yourself, remember: Satan is the one who brings shame. He doesn’t need your help.

“You provoked me”

Tragically, this has been used to explain away physical abuse, verbal abuse, control, manipulation and retaliation. It is an effort to absolve one’s self of their personal ownership of their own behavior. Relationships and conflict can be heated and complex, but that doesn’t excuse sinful and disrespectful behavior toward one’s spouse.

If you live with a blamer, here are three things counselors recommend:

1) Be tough but tender

Put up boundaries around disrespectful behavior. Remove yourself from the situation and lovingly tell your spouse you are willing to discuss the matter at hand when they can speak to you respectfully. Be careful not to engage in defensiveness or amping up the emotional tenor of the conversation. Stay loving, but strong in how you deserve to be addressed.

2) Be open to your part

You may fear that you’re giving the blamer ground by owning anything they present. But if there is something for which you should take responsibility (remember: your response is your…?) then do so. But don’t own more than you should with integrity.

3) Use “I” statements

In any conflict, “you” statements project blame and create defensiveness. But when you use statements like, “I feel frustrated when…” or “I feel angry when…” you are owning your feelings and your responsibility for them.

Be mindful of your personal responsibility, own it, and you and your spouse will come together with greater unity as you build your marriage.