Blaming in any Relationship by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend
In any relationship (between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between relatives, between friends, between bosses and employees, between one another, etc) it is human to blame the other person for causing the misunderstanding. We have learnt from very young to point the fault away from us. And this only makes the matter worse. We are so incredibly trained to notice what’s wrong in any given relationship. And this only makes the matter worse. So, we need to change our mind set. What if we spent as much energy in noticing and appreciating the other person’s gifts and talents? What if we focus on the strength and beauty of the relationship itself? What if we emphasize on the positive, however small, instead of wasting our energy in exposing the flaws?
Thus, if we still want to maintain a talking and growing relationship, we have to find some guidelines to help us cure our tendencies to blame.
We know that what Mother Teresa has said is true for any relationship:
“We know that if we really want to love we must learn how to forgive. (“A Gift for God”, 42)
“Whatever our religion, we know that if we really want to love, we must learn to forgive before anything else.” (One heart full of love, 113)
“Whatever we believe, we know that if we really want to love, we must learn to forgive. We must radiate God’s love.” (The Joy in Loving, 23 May)
“We must make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.” (“A Gift for God”, 18)
Thus, in any conflicting relationship, our anger and resentment must ultimately give way to grief and sadness. This means we are saying, “I lost,” because that is the truth. We may have lost a battle for him to change, or to make him see things our way, or to get him to understand just how wrong he was. We have to stop fighting battles that are not worth winning, or not possible to win. That is what God does every day. He lets go and feels sad about how we choose to conduct our lives. When God forgives, He chooses what we human beings would term “lost.” How so? Because soon after we would repeat the same sins and He still forgives us when we say, “I am sorry.” But God does not consider it a lost. Why? Because He loves us so much that He wants our relationship with Him to continue growing in love.
And when God forgives He does not keep count. He does not keep a record of our sins. He chooses not to remember our sins. He lets us start afresh. God says, “I will forgive their sins and will no longer remember their wrongs.” (Hebrews 8:12 TEV) So He forgives us endlessly.
It is this divine forgiveness that we are asked to practice in our relationship with one another, particularly in our family. It challenges us to stop fighting and to step over our hurt and resentment and to forgive “seventy times seven” times. When we start to move on, we are redeemed by our hurt and suffering instead of being imprisoned by them.
The passages below are written by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend under the title, “Blaming in a Dating Relationship.” They can be modified and adapted to help us solve the struggle to reduce the blame.
“Why do you always. . .”
“Why don’t you ever …”
“I can’t believe you’ve done it again.”
“I don’t deserve this kind of treatment.”
“This is your fault.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“You’re so. . .”
“After all I’ve done for you. . .”
If you have a habit of saying these or similar statements to your date, two things are true: first, they may be true; and second, you are making things worse. These are the results that blaming provides in dating. It has a place, as we will see. But it is less valuable, and more dangerous, than you might think. Let’s take a look at setting boundaries on our tendency to blame in dating.
An Honest Legacy
If you struggle with blame, you are not alone. To some extent, it is part of the human condition, and you come by it honestly. Our parents, Adam and Eve, modeled and passed the trait down through the generations: “The woman you put here with me–—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it…. The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12-13)1. They pointed the finger of blame on the Devil, each other, and even God. Even then, blame did not work for them. They stayed on the hot seat. God did not relinquish his righteous stance, but followed through with severe consequences for their disobedience.
Watch children grow in their blaming skills; it is so natural. When they are in trouble, they constantly scan the horizon, seeking someone to blame for their difficulties. “I am in time-out because Mom is mean; the dog ate my homework; Billy made me push him.” Given our heritage and makeup, it is no small wonder that we are a species of blamers.
What is blaming? It is ascribing responsibility to someone for a fault. When we accuse another of a problem, we are blaming. Blame is not bad in and of itself. It has a good function. Blame separates out who is truly responsible for what in a problem, so that we are able to know how to solve it. It helps differentiate between what is our fault, and what is another’s. For example, your girlfriend may have invited you to a party at which her ex is also attending. She was vague about whether or not he would be there. But you also gave the impression that it wouldn’t bother you, which wasn’t true. So you have a miserable time at the party. As you blame, you figure out that she was at fault for not being clear. You were at fault for not being honest about your feelings. You both know what your growth tasks are to resolve this kind of issue. Blame helped point the way to the solutions.
However, the blame that kills a good dating relationship is when one person sees herself as blameless and attributes almost all of the problems in the relationship to the other person. This sort of blame is not driven by a desire to ferret out reality in order to come to the truth about a matter. It comes from a much darker place in our hearts. This type of blame is based on a denial of our badness. When we cannot tolerate the reality of our mistakes, or that others might see that reality, we point the finger elsewhere. Blame is one of the gravest problems we face, spiritually and emotionally. It keeps us more concerned about being “good” than about being honest.
The irony is that Christians should be the least blaming people in the world, yet we are often the greatest transgressors. We have a new life of forgiveness and grace. There is no condemnation of our sins because of Jesus’ death (Romans 8:1-2)2. We, of all people, have nothing to fear from accepting responsibility for our badness. Yet self-righteousness, excuses, and condemning others are all too prevalent. The best thing you can do for yourself spiritually as well as in your dating life is to begin learning to accept blame for what is truly yours, and give up blaming for what is not another’s fault. Below, we will deal with the negative ways that “bad blaming” can affect your dating life.
Blame: An Obstacle to Intimacy
Blaming has the power to negate the growth of intimacy in a dating relationship. When a couple attempts to become closer and more vulnerable, this involves a great deal of risk. Love cannot develop without risks of the heart. When someone feels continually blamed by his date, he is in a state of judgment. He wants to protect himself from the onslaught of blame. He is in conflict between his desire to open up, and his impulse to withdraw protectively.
Travis and Morgan’s relationship is an example here. They had been dating for almost a year and were becoming close. They had recently become safe enough with each other to address problems and conflicts. One of them was Travis’s irresponsibility. He would not call when he said he would, or he would show up late for events. This grated against Morgan, who set a high value on responsibility, commitment, and punctuality. She had a legitimate gripe, and talked to Travis several times about her feelings about the problem.
Travis tried to change and become more accountable, but he didn’t do a very thorough job of it. The problem continued. As time went on, Morgan began to view most of their relationship in light of his flakiness. When he would have a legitimate emergency and not be able to call, she would say, “There you go again, and now you’re making excuses.” Or when Morgan would blow up at Travis, she’d justify it by responding, “Well, I get angry easily because I have to put up with your irresponsibility.”
Though he really cared for Morgan, Travis gradually began to pull away from her. He did not talk about his feelings and experiences much. He kept things superficial or listened to her. Anything to keep away from the blame. Finally, when he realized that he was dreading driving to her home to pick her up for dates, he knew there was a serious problem. He wanted to look forward to being with her, but he felt shell-shocked all the time. He began to avoid making plans with Morgan.
Happily, the couple did work things out and are successfully married now. Travis began telling Morgan about his fear of her blame, and she began working through it. Strangely enough, though he still isn’t perfect, he did become more responsible, too. But this was a couple that almost didn’t make it because of blame.
A State of Mind
There is even worse news about blame and dating. You don’t even have to verbally blame the other person to ruin the relationship. Blaming can be done inside, in your attitude, without your speaking a word. Blame problems are as much about the state of our mind as they are about what we say to our dates. Our inner thoughts and feelings are as important as our behavior (Matthew 5:28)3. So the man who says, “At least I don’t say what I’m thinking to her when I blame” is not off of God’s hook by any stretch of the imagination.
This is true for a couple of reasons. First, blame will affect how you approach your date. If you are continually angry, frustrated, and unforgiving, you will not be able to expose your more relational and deep parts to that person. Second, blame has a way of communicating itself through deeds if the words are not present. Silence, coldness, distance, and sarcasm can do the same damage that words do. So if you are to deal with blame, deal with it as a problem of the heart as well as the tongue.
How It Works
How does blame operate inside the one receiving it? Basically, it is experienced as truth without love, and that always feels like judgment or condemnation. All of us need to hear the truth about our selfishness, sin, or immaturity. For example, the first few times that Morgan told Travis that his undependability hurt and bothered her, she was helping him grow.
However, we cannot ingest truth from someone unless we know we are loved. It is too painful. We feel hated or simply that we are bad people. In fact, even when loving people tell us truth it still hurts. A friend of mine (Dr. Townsend’s) recently underwent surgery. He had told me about it because he wanted my support. Afterward, he told me, “It hurt me that you didn’t call me about how the surgery went.” He is a long-term and close friend. He told me this in a straightforward but loving way. And I still felt really bad, in two ways. I felt the sadness and remorse we are supposed to feel when we realize we have wronged someone (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)4. And I also felt the “I am all bad” feelings that indicated that I am not finished in my ability to receive truth about myself. It only lasted a short while, much shorter than when I began getting involved in spiritual growth. But it was long enough to feel the sting.
The point is, if this is what truth feels like when we are safe and loved, how much worse is it when we are not? We experience deep wrath, either at ourselves or the other person, for that is the essence of what law without grace brings (Romans 4:15)5. So the only way to hear truth is in an atmosphere of love (Ephesians 4:15)6; otherwise, the “blamee” is placed in a state of condemnation that he must fight either by lashing out at you or at himself.
Dating: A Petri Dish for Blame
By its very nature, dating is a rich source of blame. People find themselves pointing the finger at the same person who, a few months ago, was their ideal soul mate. There are several reasons for this.
The Exploratory Nature of Dating
Your relationship is not a permanent one yet, though it may be moving that way. But until you wed, there are few prohibitions against your leaving the relationship if you are unhappy with it. This also means that you don’t have to put up with as much trouble in dating as you do if you are married. If the good is not worth the bad, you can leave. In marriage, the covenant is much deeper than deciding whether to stay or go based on any good-bad ratio. It is for life.
When you do not have to live with someone’s faults, you are less prone to do the hard work of seeing your part in triggering them. A wife might notice that her covert withdrawal provokes the rage of her husband. She has seen the dance they do a hundred times, and she knows the only way it will resolve is for her to figure out what she needs to change. But a date can say, “I don’t do rage” and exit. This creates more of an opportunity to think it is all him, and none her. This is not to diminish the gravity of the raging man’s issue. But it perpetuates the likelihood that she will continue searching for an ideal mate who has no issues, and that she will miss dealing with her own.
Blaming as a Character Trait
We all blame to some extent. However, some people have more of a tendency to blame than others. If you find yourself continually obsessing over your date’s faults, you may be one of those people who struggle with blame as part of your character weakness. Blaming isn’t better or worse than other character flaws—–such as selfishness, impulsiveness, or passivity—–but it is certainly significant.
If you have this trait, it may tend to emerge more in the dating arena. Since you are in the process of investigating and evaluating the styles and behaviors of people you date, this process can easily contribute to your blaming weakness. You become a judge without the credentials. If this is your situation, you need to work on some of the tasks at the end of this chapter so that your dating relationship isn’t compromised by your blaming tendencies. Until you do some work on this, however, being a blamer in the dating world is a little like letting an active alcoholic tend bar: it is too much temptation for the weaker parts of your nature.
The Romantic Intensity of Dating
Romance is the one quality that distinguishes dating from friendship. Romance carries a great deal of passion and emotional intensity with it. This intensity can have a regressive quality to it. Its depth and strength can tap into old needs and desires from when we were children. That is why people sometimes act silly when they are in love. They feel like kids again, with all the highs and lows that children feel.
During the low part of the childlike swings, blame can take hold. People who have unresolved hurts may unwittingly blame their date for things they aren’t guilty of. Their child parts are not able to differentiate between significant formative relationships and the date. The blame strikes the wrong target. That is why many dates have had the experience of “Why is she so mad at me? This punishment is far worse than the offense.” It is, more likely, that the romantic fires have unearthed early parts of her soul that never grew up.
If you have experienced this, you will need to do some work on bringing these early hurt parts to some healing, supportive relationships. As you repair these parts in God’s process of growth and meet those needs through other caring relationships, you are less likely to feel the intense need to blame your date.
The Results of Blame
Ultimately, blame is its own and only reward. There is a very sick satisfaction that comes in pointing the judgment finger at another. It provides us with the delusion that we are better than we are, and that our biggest problems in life are the sins of other people. It prevents us from seeing our profound need for the grace and mercy of God.
It helps to know how little blame accomplishes, as a way to let go of it. Here are the real results of a dating relationship typified by blame:
• The couple invests more deeply in grievances than in loving.
• One person fights off the blame while the other hunts her down.
• One person idealizes someone he isn’t dating, thinking she would never be as bad as who he has now.
• Couples develop unsatisfying ways of solving conflict.
• One person gets labeled as the bad guy and forever has to live with it.
• The good guy is the object of resentment and hurt, as it is hard to be in relationship with a blamer.
The list could go on. It’s enough to say, however, that whatever happiness, safety, security, and love you have dreamed of will probably be compromised to the extent that you blame.
Dating and Moral Superiority
Another way that blame can kill a dating relationship is that the injured person can take on an attitude of moral superiority to her offender. She will be shocked and saddened by his behavior, and think, I would never be capable of the hurt that he has caused. While it may be true that he has hurt her deeply, she doesn’t know the dark capabilities of her own heart (Romans 3:10-18)7.
Blamers are people who tend to take a victim stance. They feel helpless and run over by powerful people, and they do not see themselves as having much say-so in relationships. This is a child position, and therefore brings with it a sense of innocence. The result is that the blamer–—who sees herself as an innocent victim–—will forever hold the problem over the offender’s head.
It is very hard for dating to survive this problem. The offender will try and try to get in his girlfriend’s good graces, but will come back feeling one-down and inferior to his innocently hurt date. Though he needs to own what hurt he has caused, it is very difficult to do so with someone who sees themselves as angel and him as a devil. He will eventually give up trying to do the impossible.
If you tend toward the morally superior position, look at it as something that is working against everything you want in life: mutually adult relationships, personal growth, and freedom. Begin realizing how capable we all are to sin and being hurtful. Actually, it is a relief to get away from a demand to be innocent. Living in reality is less work than living in a fantasy land.
Many times, a date will feel she has a right to stay frustrated with her boyfriend because he has truly done things wrong. She doesn’t want to ignore the issue. So she is in a dilemma: either pretend it’s a non-issue, and watch things get worse, or say something, and get labeled as a judge. Neither of these are good solutions, and certainly help no one move toward a successful long term relationship. Here are some guidelines to curing the blame problem.
The most important solution is to actively observe your own soul for faults and weaknesses. Blame problems tend to lessen when we are pointing the finger at ourselves first. Remember that you can’t give judgment and expect to receive mercy at God’s hands: “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13)8. We have won most of the battle when we are much more concerned about our own sins than about the sins of our date.
Your date needs to hear the truth about his failings. But he also needs to first hear about yours. This sets a tone of moral equality that makes things safe. Remember that the ground is always level at the foot of the cross.
Relate to Both the Good and Bad of Your Date
It is hard to maintain a blaming stance if you keep the good parts of your date in mind as much as you do the bad parts. This is not denial; it is relating to the whole person. In fact, chronic blaming is closer to denial, because it can negate your gratitude, appreciation, and love for her good parts. In healthy relationships, people accept the good and bad in each other. They love and hate each other. But love dominates over hate and is the glue that helps us tolerate the bad things that we should not ignore.
Set Boundaries Instead of Blaming
Many times, people blame because they feel powerless and helpless in the relationship. They blame because it is the only way they can protest what the other person is doing. However, there is a better way. It is much more helpful to confront your date in love, let him know what you will not tolerate, and set limits if the behavior continues. That opens you up to having choices, some freedom and power, and you don’t feel as controlled by the other person. For example, Morgan could have said to Travis, “I am not going to nag you anymore about not calling me. But that’s not how I want to be treated. So the next time you promise to call and don’t, I don’t want us to see each other for a couple of weeks. I want to be with you, but not the way things are right now.” She would have accomplished more this way than with the blaming. Blaming never really solves the problem you have. Limits often do, and thus eliminate the need for blaming in the first place.
Another reason people continually blame is that they have difficulty forgiving their date. Forgiveness is canceling a debt that someone owes. We all need forgiveness at times, and we all owe it to each other. Many times, we don’t forgive because we feel it’s unfair, or we think they are getting away with something. That is why we have a Savior, because the alternative is worse. The problem of being unable to forgive is a real one. To resolve it, it is important to remember that we have a Savior who has forgiven us at the deepest level, and who requires us to let go of the demand for revenge or perfect justice (Matthew 6:12—15)9, just as he did for us. Let go of the offense, and the need for revenge or perfect justice. Set limits on what can change. Forgive what will not. And evaluate if the relationship is one you want based on those two aspects.
While forgiveness is objective in nature, grief is its emotional component. When we cancel a debt, we are letting go of the right to demand revenge. That letting go brings loss and a feeling of sadness. That is the essence of grief. Blamers are angry, but it is the kind of anger that solves no problems. Anger must ultimately give way to grief and sadness. This means you are saying, “I lost,” because that is the truth. You may have lost a battle for her to change, or to see things your way, or to understand just how much she hurt you. Stop fighting battles that are not worth winning, or not possible to win. That is what God does every day. He lets go and feels sad about how we choose to conduct our lives (Matthew 23:37)10.
These steps involve some work, but they will effectively set limits on the negative power of blame in your relationship.
• Learn to humbly listen to correction and restrain the urge to react in blame.
• Use blame as a signal to see if you are afraid, feel judged, or are sad about a fault.
• Take a strong stance of being more concerned about your own soul’s state than that of your date’s.
• Accept what is negative about your date and work with the realities instead of staying locked in protest, argument, and blame.
• Ask those you trust to let you know when you play the blame game.
• Be a forgiver, and make mutual forgiveness a part of the culture of your dating relationship.
Notes from NKJV
1. (Genesis 3:12-13) Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
2. (Romans 8:1-2) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
3. (Matthew 5:28)“But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
4. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11) For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
5. (Romans 4:15) because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression
6. (Ephesians 4:15) but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ
7. (Romans 3:10-18)As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit; The poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
8. (James 2:13)For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
9. (Matthew 6:12—15) “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
10. (Matthew 23:37)”O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”