February 26, 2024
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‘Whose Fault Is It?’ Blame As a Relationship Killer

The original biblical couple began the relationship dance of blame as a method of avoiding taking responsibility (Genesis, 3, verse 12, 13). “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” We all know how well that turned out. That was just the beginning, to be followed by Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, etc. It began early and never ends. Human relationships have been marked by never ending cycles of blame and recrimination. We learned early on to point the finger at the sibling who ate the last cookie, the classmate who copied our work, the teacher who failed a student because the student wasn’t liked. These behaviors are both instinctual and learned. As children we may have observed the mutual blaming that even the best parents resort to when a child is challenging: “ If you weren’t so indulgent, maybe he would behave better. If you weren’t so strict, maybe she would confide in us.” Behaviors that are modeled become imprinted responses.

This defensive posture is universal and so instinctive that for many it is the default method of handling a problem. Whose fault is it? Finding fault, self blame is so culturally pervasive that adult therapy clients will often share a feeling that they were responsible for their parents’ divorce, a feeling that persists into adulthood. The antidote to blame is compassion. It is not a substitute for accepting personal responsibility, but it is part of the soil in which real accountability can grow.

An enormous effort is required to shift out of the following pattern: I blame you. You feel ashamed, diminished, unjustly criticized–any or all of these. How do you respond? With whatever defensive tools you have to protect you from these negative feelings. If your self protective stance is withdrawal, you may shut down. If it is to fight back, you may respond aggressively–counter attacking and blaming the other. If you find yourself in a continuous cycle of withdrawal, eventually your resentment takes over and you may become explosively angry or feel that the only solution is to cut off completely from the relationship.

The toxic nature of blame is well known to family and couples therapists. But history doesn’t have to become destiny. If someone is interested in shifting the pattern of a relationship that is filled with blaming behaviors, Relational Life Therapy (RLT) is a powerful set of interventions that can help.

RLT, developed by Terry Real, is a therapy designed to help couples, families and individuals pay attention to the ways in which their automatic defensive responses derail their relationships. It is a therapy that honors the adaptations that each of us have made to survive our past, while helping those who are motivated to change to be accountable for not continuing these negative behaviors in current relationships. If this sounds like a journey you would like to explore, feel free to contact me, Esther East, certified relational therapist. For more information about this method, you can read Terry Real’s newest book, US- Getting Past You & Me to Build a More Loving Relationship.


Esther East is a Certified Relational Therapist. She can be reached at www.thefcwc.com or (201) 836-0851.

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