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Note: A nondenominational version of this article appears at Your Family Expert.
“I’m not the problem, he is.” “It’s not my fault, it’s hers.” Many individuals feel this way in their relationships. Despite the popularity of the axiom “it takes two to tango,” many are quick to blame their partner instead of first looking at their own role in molding the situation. The truth is, both partners created the problem, and both must be part of the solution…usually.
When it Only Takes One
There are two exceptions to the “two to tango” rule; in other words, there are two relationship problems in which one partner dances solo. In cases of abuse and infidelity, the offending partner alone is responsible for the behavior.
“Hang on!” some might say, “Yes, I cheated, but it’s because I felt lonely in my marriage! If my spouse had made me feel wanted, I would have been faithful!” Others might state “I only got physical because my partner wouldn’t leave me alone and was yelling at me! If they hadn’t made me mad, I wouldn’t have hit them.”
This kind of thinking presents a slippery slope; it reasons that cheating is the fault of the faithful partner while abuse is caused by the victim. The fact is, each one of us is responsible for his or her own behavior. One might feel isolated by his partner, but he is still responsible for the choice to be unfaithful. His partner didn’t “make” him cheat. Likewise, one might be enraged by her spouse’s shouting, but she is still responsible for the choice to strike. No one “made” her use violence. In each case, healthier coping strategies could have been employed, but weren’t.
I am reminded of the King Mosiah’s people, of whom it is written that “every man expressed a desire to answerfor his own sins” (Mosiah 29:38). Likewise, President Brigham Young taught (using himself as an example for all of us): “If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed (DBY, 390).” We must all be accountable for our own actions, without seeking to justify ourselves, and rely on the Atonement of Christ to help us to repent and change.
Take the Lead…
Once the line is crossed into abuse (verbal, physical, or sexual), the offending party must take full ownership of the behavior if the relationship is ever to heal. Ditto for crossing the line into infidelity. They must not attempt to justify their behavior or to shift blame. This takes a tremendous amount of courage and humility.
This is not to say that the victimized party is perfect nor that they don’t have anything to improve upon. They likely contributed to the negativity and tension in the relationship. The emotional climate leading up to the abuse or infidelity may have been created by both, and still needs to be corrected by both.
That said, this is only possible when the person who became abusive or unfaithful takes full responsibility for that behavior. They must show that their remorse is equal to the pain which they have caused. The reason for this is simple: if the victimized party sees the offender as justifying, minimizing, or failing to take responsibility for their actions, it is impossible to trust that it won’t happen again.
It takes two to tango and two to create most relationship problems. But when it comes to affairs and abuse, it only takes one. Healing may take once again take two (after all, the wounded partner makes the choice whether to forgive and trust), but those who hurt the ones they love must take the lead in making it right.
If I can help in this process, or if there’s anything I can do for you specifically, please let me know.
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist offering online counseling throughout Utah and face-to-face sessions in St. George. He can be reached at (435) 215-6113 or via email at [email protected].