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Blame Game

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Is your spouse behaving in a way you find disturbing? The first place to look should be in a mirror.

Imagine how many marriages could be changed if we would apply the basic principle: Don't blame others; take responsibility instead. Whenever things aren't working out perfectly, our immediate reaction is usually to blame our spouse. "If only he didn't do that." "If only she would change."

The wiser and more effective step is to focus inward. What is it about my action that causes him to react negatively? What could I do to get her to respond in a more positive fashion? The responsibility is mine, not theirs.

If I continue to nag my husband to clean the garage, it's not surprising that not only is the garage messier than ever, but my husband is snarly and resentful.

But if I (dare) clean the garage myself, or phrase my request in a more pleasant manner -- "It gives me so much pleasure to have a clean garage." -- or "I'm really grateful that you took time out of what I know is a busy schedule to clean the garage," then the desired behavior is more likely to occur. And in a good-natured fashion. (This is not reflective of a personal obsession with a clean garage; we don't even have a garage!)

Blaming our spouse is the easy way out. Adam tried it and look where it got him!

If my husband comes home grumpy at the end of the day, I could a) complain about my day, pointing out that in comparison he has nothing to be upset about, b) yell at him for being so grumpy and inattentive, thereby deepening his miserable mood or c) greet him with a smile and give him the opportunity to relax and unwind in a safe and nurturing environment. If we don't choose the full credit answer, we don't get the full credit response.

Everyone has a wish list of changes they'd like to see in their spouse's behaviors -- from the trivial (Why don't we enjoy the same movies?) to the deeper (Why can't she be more patient?). But there is only one person in the marriage whose behavior we're responsible for: Our own.

Whenever our partner is behaving in a way we find disturbing or unattractive, the first place to look should be in our mirror. What am I doing that may possibly elicit such behavior? How should I act to discourage it?

Bashing our husbands, criticizing our wives, may make us feel briefly better, but it is ultimately destructive. Not just because of the ban on gossip. Not just because of betrayal of our spouse. Not just because it fans the flames of discontent. But because it displaces responsibility. It suggests that all would be perfect if it weren't for their annoying habit of...

We all know this is an illusion. Blaming our spouse is the easy way out. Adam tried it and look where it got him! A good marriage begins with each side vowing to take responsibility for the state of the marital union, for their personal behaviors. A great marriage is created when they really do.

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