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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Relationships and The Role of Mutual Blame

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 4th 2012

Relationships and The Role of Mutual Blame"You are constantly critical and that's why I don't talk to you."
"It's your fault I got laid off from work."
"You did not buy milk for the baby as I told you to do. You never take responsibility.
"You did not tell me to buy milk because you were complaining about something else."
"Everything would be fine if you would just accept this one thing."
"It's all your fault that I drink."

These are just a few examples of how people in relationships blame one another. I am sure the reader can come up with many more from their own relationships. What is important to understand about mutual blame is that it never works. It is usually in the context of an arguments that a couple starts to engage in the process of mutual blame. Once that happens couple starts to become defensive and angrier than at the start. Being told you are to blame for something is being told you are incompetent, at fault and lacking in many ways. No one wants to feel backed into a corner and forced to confess to being wrong. Because one's pride and ego become involved, it becomes necessary to prove the other person wrong and to then blame then. In fact, even knowing that they are to blame for something, a partner will deny they are responsible. In the case above, he probably was asked to buy a container of milk. However, because they were in the midst of an argument he probably denied that he forgot and blamed her.

The nature of relationships is such that everyone is at fault because everyone contributes, in some way, to the problem. In other words, people in a relationship impact one anther in dozens of ways. The fact that they impact one another provides a good and convenient reason to engage in blame. In reality, it is rare that anyone is totally to blame for many of the things that happen. Relating means that there are interactions going on between two people who have a history and future together. Interaction does not mean that one partner caused something to happen to the other. Each individual is responsible for their own behaviors, separate and apart from the other. For example, if I had a bad day, it does not mean that my partner caused it. Another example might be that "I withdraw from interacting because of your criticisms" really means that "I feel like I want to withdraw when I hear criticism." An age old example is that "you gave me a headache." In reality, I have a headache." Why blame it on another person?

In the end it is better, when in a conflict, to find ways to find solutions to the disagreement. Sometimes it is as simple as finding a better way to phrase things. Communication is more than one individual speaking. Rather, communication means listening first, and then responding in non defensive ways. For example, using the pronoun "I" when speaking is far better than accusatory "you." Also, the use of the word "why" as in "why do you" is accusatory. It sounds a lot better to say "I am so angry that I got laid off that I want to blame everyone." Another example is to say "I wish we could find a solution that you would find acceptable. The choice of words is always important.

In a permanent relationship the goal should not be to win an argument at the expense of the other person, not if you value that person. In close relations, winning an argument can mean losing the relationship.

Rather than blame, find solutions.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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