Imagine you have an uncle who enjoys smoking cigarettes indoors despite repeated warnings of the fire hazard it creates. Now, picture a little boy fascinated by playing with matches, despite being cautioned about the dangers. One night, a smoke alarm shatters the silence, revealing a home ablaze. Amidst the chaos, blame erupts—pointing fingers as the flames rage. You immediately begin to angrily question the uncle and son, shouting “which one of you set the house on fire?” They both shout back, “it wasn’t me!” You respond, “well, it had to be one of you! This fire didn’t start itself!” But does assigning fault amid the inferno achieve anything? I believe blame is very rarely a helpful tool.

As absurd as it sounds, blame often becomes the default reaction to life’s crises. In workplaces, homes, and relationships, it is all too common to witness blame erupting, even while a crisis still looms. During the aforementioned fire, why not get everyone to safety first and figure out who is at fault later—if it still seems relevant? Immediate and incessant finger-pointing only serves to prolong the agony, diverting energy from solving the emergency at hand.

As absurd as it seems, I have encountered many situations in life where the minute something happens, the people involved immediately start pointing fingers to be sure someone else is blamed for the problem. In law offices where I have worked, if a due date is forgotten, there is a rush to blame the legal assistant that should have calendared it, the attorney who was responsible to do the work, the opposing attorney who did something sneaky, or the supervising attorney with whom the buck stops. Often personnel spend a lot of valuable time while the “fire” continues to burn, arguing about who is to blame when they could all be pitching in to solve the problem more quickly.

Our government continues to run trillion-dollar deficits year after year, threatening our economy with collapse, while the two political parties point fingers and blame each other for the problem. They are fiddling while Rome burns!

In many families, when an item of property gets broken, everyone claims it was someone else’s fault. In dating relationships, each partner may complain that the other person was primarily responsible for a miscommunication or argument. In a date between two divorced people, both often discuss almost nothing except why their former spouses were to blame for their divorces. Most human beings have a lot of practice blaming others; so we can be very convincing if the other person is not present to defend himself or herself.

Blame is as old as the human race. When God asked Adam if he had eaten the forbidden fruit, he said, “[t]he woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12) (emphasis added).

While you can likely make an argument that the other person is to blame for a problem in a relationship, what does that achieve?  If you ever manage to assign blame to just one person—which is likely not correct—what have you achieved? You have succeeded in making one person feel superior and the other feel bad. Is that the kind of relationship you want? Is it even true, or did you just get one person to verbally take the blame and make a begrudging apology because he or she just wants the argument to be over?

Think about it. The only reason for blame is to assign guilt and punish. Why else do we care about fault? And if we need someone to admit guilt and be emotionally punished before we can discuss the need to change things, that demand is going to stand in the way of the needed change. If we can discuss the need for things to change without making it painful or demeaning for either person, isn’t that easier than demanding an admission of guilt and a full-throated apology? If I can work with you on making positive changes without having to be wrong to do it, I am more likely to participate.

As marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman wrote in his bestselling book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert, even where one person is mostly at fault for a particular problem, “blaming him will only make it worse.” Gottman continued, “The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’”

How many of us love having other people point out our failings or faults? Chances are good that we already understand our weaknesses. Having someone we care about point them out as reasons why we are not good enough can be very damaging to the self-image as well as our ability to be open and vulnerable in a relationship. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the best way to persuade people to change for the better is to watch over them with tenderness and love:

Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.

Instead of blaming, we can communicate how we feel using “I” statements. Dr. Gottman gives these examples:

“You are not listening to me” versus “I would like it if you’d listen to me.”

“You are careless with money” versus “I want us to save more.”

“You just don’t care about me” versus “I’m feeling neglected.”

Using the word “you” is accusatory. Using the word “I” takes more responsibility for one’s own thoughts and feelings. While Dr. Gottman places great emphasis on the choice of words (and word choice is helpful) I believe our underlying thoughts matter even more. If I am determined that my partner is to blame for a relationship problem, I will find a way to convey that regardless of my choice of words to make it sound more neutral—and my partner will often track my real feelings. So, it is important to focus on having a less blaming attitude more than trying to fake it with less blaming words.

Brené Brown gave this funny example of a blaming attitude from her own life:

How many of you are blamers? How many of you, when something goes wrong, the first thing you want to know is, whose fault it is? Hi. My name is Brené Brown and I am a blamer.

I need to tell you this quick story. This is a couple years ago, when I first realized the magnitude to which I blame. I’m in my house. I have on white slacks and a pink sweater set. I’m getting ready to go teach. And I’m drinking a cup of coffee in my kitchen. It’s a full cup of coffee. I drop it on the tile floor. It goes into a million pieces, splashes up all over me.

The first, I mean the first thought, to a millisecond after it hits the floor. Right out of my mouth is this, “Damn you Steve.” He’s my husband. Because let me tell you how fast this works for me. Steve plays water polo with a group of friends. And the night before, he went to go play water polo. And I said, “Hey, make sure you come back at 10 because you know, I can never fall asleep until you are home.”

He got back at 10:30, chatting it up with his friends. I went to bed a little bit later than I thought. Ergo, my second cup of coffee, I probably would not be having, had he come home, when we discussed, at 10:00.

I’m going to assume, you’re laughing with me, not at me. How many women are thinking, “that makes absolute sense? And how many men in here are thinking, “Oh, that’s how it works.” Right. And the rest of the story is. I’m cleaning up the kitchen. Steve calls. I see caller ID. “Hey.” He’s like, “Hey, what’s going on babe?” “What’s going on?” (said in an annoyed voice) “I’ll tell you exactly what’s going on. I’m cleaning up the coffee that spilled all…” “Duuuuuuuuuuuu” (sound). I hear the sound of the dial tone.

Because he knows. How many of you go to that place, when something bad happens? The first thing you want to know is, whose fault is it?

Brené’s story is funny—but also not funny. Life can be messy. Mistakes and accidents happen, and that can make life inconvenient and frustrating. But they don’t need to pit us against those we love—including our dating partners. We all want people to be understanding when we have accidents, make mistakes, or experience lapses in judgment. We don’t need to concoct elaborate stories to make a partner the villain by assigning blame.

Sometimes we may need to solve a problem, make a new agreement, or come to a better understanding. Any of these tasks are substantially easier if we don’t have to make someone the “bad guy” or spend energy determining whose fault the problem was. “Here’s what we know from the research,” says Brené Brown, “blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Blaming is a way that we discharge anger.” Blame is often the way we make the other person at fault so we don’t have to feel responsible ourselves. But it has the opposite fact. When I assign blame, the natural impulse of the other person is to assign blame right back at me—causing further alienation.

What is our natural response when we are in relationships with blamers? We tend to hide from their condemnation. We aren’t open. We are afraid of being made into “the bad guy.” And, eventually, the “blamer” will talk about how dishonest we have been by not being more open with them, admitting our mistakes, or sharing more sensitive information. Blame is the natural fertilizer for the tree of dishonesty and emotional barriers. Blame is toxic and corrosive to the openness and vulnerability we need to create deep connection.

As Don Miguel Ruiz wrote in his book The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship (A Toltec Wisdom Book):

The truth is I am not what you want me to be. When I am honest and I am what I am, you are already hurt, you are mad. Then I lie to you, because I am afraid of your judgment. I am afraid you are going to blame me, find me guilty, and punish me. And every time you remember, you punish me again and again and again for the same mistake.

Blame is a corrosive energy that can gradually erode the foundation of any relationship, especially in the delicate realm of dating. While it may seem like a natural response to conflict or disagreement, its detrimental effects outweigh any temporary relief it may provide.

Jesus Christ gave us the ultimate truth on the subject of blame, declaring:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? (Matthew 7:1-3)

When you choose a person to spend your life with, don’t choose a blamer. Even more important, don’t be a blamer. Don’t choose to live in the anxiety that comes from walking in the world making other people wrong. If you have had difficulty functioning in relationships, ask yourself if the need to blame others for the things that go wrong is part of the problem. Do you find yourself imputing unkind motives to those who say “no” to dating you? Do you find yourself blaming your partners when fears or difficulties arise in dating relationships? Has it been important to you to determine whose fault it is when something goes wrong? If this is your pattern, give yourself some peace. Lay your burden at the feet of Christ and leave judgment to Him. Focus on loving people instead of blaming them.

 

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About the Author

Jeff Teichert, and his wife Cathy Butler Teichert, are the founders of “Love in Later Years,” which ministers to Latter-day Saint single adults seeking peace, healing, and more joyful relationships. They are co-authors of the Amazon bestseller Intentional Courtship: A Mid-Singles Guide to Peace, Progress and Pairing Up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff and Cathy each spent nearly a decade in the mid-singles community and they use that experience to provide counsel and hope to mid-singles and later married couples through written articles, podcasts, and videos. Jeff and Cathy are both Advanced Certified Life Coaches and have university degrees in Family & Human Development. They are the parents of a blended family that includes four handsome sons, one lovely daughter-in-law, and two sweet little granddaughters.

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