The Futility of Blame
- 2008 9 Sep
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
Many people write to me angry about the behavior of someone in their life. Their emails are filled with justifications for their right to be angry, hurt and resentful. They offer a litany of abusive behaviors which led them to the conclusion that they are the wounded party and have a right to either end the marriage or blame their mate for their misery.
It is nearly impossible to tease apart who is “right” and who is “wrong,” and in fact such an effort nearly always ends in futility. Why? Because relationships are much too complex to label one person “bad” and another “good.” Understanding humanity, we know that all are fully capable of doing “bad” things, and with God’s grace, also capable of much good.
Far too much conversation and conflict takes on an adversarial quality. We point fingers, level blame, collect hurts and wounds, and then begin to make a determination that our mate is “the crazy one.” This is not to say that there aren’t CrazyMakers in our world, because surely there are. However, as many have come to realize, we develop CrazyMaking tactics ourselves.
As you consider become healthier, I suggest the first tactic to give up completely is blame. Again, blame says:
• “You are wrong and I am right.”
• “You are bad and I am good.”
• “I am completely justified in treating you badly because of what you have done to me.”
• “Your faults are much greater than mine.”
• “I have a right to feel righteous indignation.”
Now again, be careful about thinking too simplistically. There certainly are times when we have been wronged and can understandably feel hurt. But, we don’t want to camp there. We don’t want to drive a stake and take on a “victim” position. This will only keep us stuck. Each of us are fully responsible for our lives and must make difficult decisions at times to preserve our sanity.
Listen to the following story of a man who decided to stop the destructive patterns in a troubled marriage. He certainly seems to have tried everything possible to preserve his marriage even in establishing a separation.
Dear Dr. David. I read your book about dealing with CrazyMakers twice, once in a panic-state while trying to save my marriage and again after being separated for seven months. I actually read it the second time without looking for some magic fix to my wife’s problem. Your book saved my sanity. I realize there was nothing to be done that would have mattered and everything attempted was only enabling a sickness. She moved out in February taking every stick of furniture except my bed, demanding that I pay for her apartment. The toxicity has mostly left my thinking and been replaced with objectivity. Her periodic threats, text messages and angry voice messages are almost pitiful, now that I understand it is a five-year-old maturity level and not a forty-eight year old woman. Had it not been for your book, they certainly would have “hooked” me into the painful cycle once again.
I am trying now not to blame her. We got hooked into patterns of blaming each other that was not healthy. She is responsible for what happens in her life now and is no longer in a position to blame me. When our mutual friends attempt to tell me what is going on with her, I politely change the subject or ask them to stop. Rescuing doesn’t work. Blaming her doesn’t work. Appeasing doesn’t work. Giving in doesn’t work. No contact works, if only for me, if only for now.
I still ask God to bless her and take care of her as only He can. Not because I’m not furious with her, but because she is very wounded and very damaged from a long time ago. Thank you for your book, as it helped me to find my way during a very difficult time. I’m still not sure what will happen to our marriage, but apart, I am able to think clearer and make better decisions.
There is a saying that says, “Muddy water left alone becomes clear.” It seems that this is true for this man. He has given up the fight and certainly sounds healthier because of it. This doesn't mean we shouldn't work on our problems. But there is wisdom in taking responsibility for that which we can control -- our own actions -- and letting go of that which we should not attempt to control.
If you are like me, you’ve been in relationship/ marriage situations where you make decisions from a state of panic. You’re angry, hurt, wounded and desperately want your mate to act differently. You want to control the situation, and so shift to the one tactic we’ve had in our genes since Adam and Eve: blame.
But, blame doesn’t work. It never has worked. While it may make you feel powerful, tough and self-righteous, it doesn’t help heal.
Understanding works. Empathy works. Objectivity works. Self-reflection and acceptance of responsibility works. Cooperating with your mate in seeking solutions works.
Relationships are difficult at times. Filled with passion and emotion, it can be extremely hard to make sense out of things. I suggest a beginning place to sort our your marriage and relationship problems: give up blame. Share your hurt with your mate, but give up blame. Share your fragility and fear, but give up blame. Share your panic, but give up blame. Step back, seek Godly counsel, and give up blame. It simply alienates, wounds and is futile in solving problems.
Please let me know what you think about giving up blame. What experiences do you have with blame? What has helped, and what has hurt when it comes to blame?
David Hawkins, Ph.D., is the founder of the Marriage Recovery Center. He has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.