Why Both Spouses Lose when Playing the Blame Game
- Michael Smalley The Smalley Relationship Center
- 2007 28 Apr
The task seemed simple enough. All the clerk wanted was for me to pay the bill. There was one problem however, I didn't have my wallet. Somewhere between my insatiable hunger for pizza and the lack of will power to take my time getting there, I forgot my wallet. So there I was, standing in line at the pizza place with no money, and a history of forgetting my wallet. But the embarrassment of not having any money was the least of my problems; the worst was yet to come. My wife Amy, of just a year, was standing at my side also waiting for me to pay.
I could have just announced that I forgot my wallet, but it was not that simple. Because of my bad memory, Amy had grown a tad intolerant of my forgetfulness. Somehow my forgetting to pay bills, leaving the trash out for days, and losing important receipts had caused some frustration between us. Then it happened, like a strike of lightning. "You forgot your wallet, didn't you!" Amy said, smoke rising from her brow.
This moment is exactly why taking responsibility for yourself is so important. No matter what the circumstances, we are in charge of how we feel and how we react. People, places, or things do not run our emotional lives, we do! I wish I could say I handled myself correctly in the above situation. I can not. Instead of admitting my mistake, and taking full responsibility for my actions, I reacted out of embarrassment. "You shouldn't get so upset about this! Come to think of it, it's really your fault!" I shot back which only escalated the argument further. When we start to blame, we start to shift responsibility from ourselves to another person or situation. As Christians we are capable of being responsible. The Christian philosopher, Michael Keeling, wrote, "We are responsible for our actions in the dynamic sense that we can overcome both the external pressures of society and environment and the internal pressures of genetics and psychology and begin to act, by the power of God in us, as people who have nothing to fear and nothing to lose." We, by the power of God within us, can take ownership of our feelings and reactions.
Ownership or responsibility is vital because, like M. Scott Peck wrote in his book The Road Less Traveled, "many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: 'This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me.'" We can not solve our marital problems by ignoring them or blaming external things. If we do not take full responsibility for ourselves, we are choosing to make our marriage less than God intended. So when we take responsibility and ownership for ourselves we become entirely responsible for one's life, not only for one's actions but for one's failures to act.
Why become a person who assumes full responsibility for his actions and feelings? Because, it is the only way to live a fulfilling life! Dr. Frank Pittman, in his book "Grow Up!", writes, "Without responsibility there can be no happiness". Think of not taking responsibility as being like a glob of goo. You have no control of where you're going, and no one wants to be near you. What kind of life is that? Human responsibility is what makes us human. God has given us the freedom to be in control of our lives. God has allowed us to make right and wrong decisions. With this freedom, comes an awesome sense of responsibility to do the right thing. Life is about choices. If we choose to make healthy, God-centered choices, then our job will be easier and easier with every right turn. However, the opposite is true as well. If we choose to make poor decisions, lacking in responsibility, it will become easier and easier to make the wrong decisions.
It's like the wife who angrily approached her husband saying, "I took the 'Are you a good husband?' test in this magazine, answered the questions the way you'd answer them, and you failed! What do you have to say for yourself?" Taking ownership of our own emotions and behaviors is not always the easiest task. We are in relationships, and these relationships can make the task more difficult. However, they don't make it impossible!
It's Not a 7 Step Program
There is no easy remedy to becoming a responsible adult. Invariably, steps are involved in the process of becoming responsible, but there is a deeper more intense idealism we must reach before we can take responsibility for ourselves. That idealism is believing and recognizing the need to be responsible. If we can't see the importance of being responsible, then what reason do we give ourselves to be responsible? We must recognize the need, and then simply decide to live a more responsible life.
Though somehow, it's never this simple. Why do we stumble at the task of being responsible? The answer might lie in one word, selfishness. The act of taking ownership requires us to put our friends, family, mate, and others ahead of our own personal desires. It's caring more about the feelings and needs of others than those of our own. So when I was in the pizza line, all I had to say was something like, "It sounds like my forgetfulness is really frustrating to you, and I'm sorry". End of argument. But instead I was more concerned about my own image, and what others might think about me, and I paid for that attitude with a three hour argument with my wife. And I definitely didn't get to enjoy the pizza!
Of coarse some of the readers might be thinking, "Yea, right!" Taking ownership might not immediately end an argument with your mate, but it sure won't fuel the fire. Imagine an argument being like a fire. Attitudes like blaming, yelling, and name calling all pour gasoline on the argument fire. Taking responsibility is like a huge fire extinguisher wiping out the potential to a marital forest fire. Your mate might not respond immediately to your responsibility, but I can promise over time you will see a positive difference in your marriage and in the way you communicate with each other when you take responsibility for yourself.
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