Blame always causes damage, either to oneself or to others. To blame others is to defend oneself from uncomfortable feelings and to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions; blaming oneself reinforces one’s lack of self worth. Blame breeds resentment and prevents resolution of conflict.
Blame is a defensive response to pain – instead of allowing us to express hurt, it prompts us to act out and attack. It is always tinged with anger and produces no result. Blame alienates and pushes away. Over time, blame destroys relationships.
In my work with couples I have seen blame exacerbate the rupture that brought the couple into treatment in the first place. Unless both people in a relationship take responsibility in a conflict, they will express their feelings through blame. This prevents understanding and enflames problems in communication.
Even if the blamed person takes responsibility for her/his partner’s hurt and apologizes, it may seem like the problem is being addressed when, in fact, resentment and guilt are simply buried and end up being acted out in other areas of the relationship. While blame and subsequent apology may create the impression that the rupture has been dealt with, it in fact has simply been camouflaged until it presents itself in other problematic areas that the couple may or may not be dealing with. While not always apparent, in any conflict there is shared responsibility in preventing understanding and healing.
Suspicion or discovery of infidelity is one of the most volatile areas that come between couples, leaving the psyche gripped with feelings of insecurity and rejection. What drives a partner to explode in rage when experiencing the pain of betrayal? What role does each partner play in a rupture precipitated by infidelity, either real or imagined? And does responding with rage when infidelity strikes address the problem?
When both people in a couple discover their own responsibility in a rupture, including infidelity, it does not illustrate “blaming the victim”. In every dyad, there is action and reaction, and I have found that even in the most blatant breaking of trust, the injured party can look at her/his contribution to the breakdown in the relationship. If blame is the only response to being hurt, after time the blamed member of the couple will start to resent her/his partner.
A couple who had been together for 11 years came to see me after discovery of a workplace flirtation. The wife had found a romantic-tinged text from her husband’s co-worker and confronted her husband. He admitted the flirtation had gotten out of hand and, while confused, he said that he did not want to leave the marriage, loved his wife and the life that they had, and wanted to work on the marriage. The wife was devastated and enraged. She acted out her pain and devastation with attack and accusation and, as she attacked, her anger only deepened. As we worked together, many past problems in the relationship came up that had never been addressed. But the blame and attack from the wife continued unabated until the husband was distraught and resentful. I tried to focus on the wife’s pain, the husband’s confusion and on working on the past unaddressed problems that contributed to the flirtation and fantasy. After a couple of months, the wife’s constant blame and accusation and the husband’s growing resentment ruptured the relationship in a more substantial way than the initial out-of-hand flirtation. The wife refused to look at her role in the ruptures and continued to blame her husband in total for the problems in the relationship. The conflict deepened and healing was elusive.
A married man I have worked with for many years struggles with tremendous guilt and self-recrimination over his pornography addiction and for his occasional hiring of escorts. Although his addiction has been a life-long struggle, during his marriage and until recently he has refrained from pornography and sexually acting out. During his 10 years of marriage, he has had two children. For a long period of time he has felt neglected by his wife, who has been focusing on the children and has neglected intimacy with him. When he brings up the lack of sex and suggests working on it, she avoids the topic and lets it drop. Lately my patient has succumbed to his porn addiction and is worried that he may act out further. My patient is filled with self-blame about his addiction. He thinks of his addiction as a weakness and moral failing. While he has enormous empathy for his wife, and understands why the intimacy has left their relationship, he has no empathy for himself. Instead of confronting the issue of sex with his wife and not letting the subject drop when he brings it up, he blames himself for needing to fulfill his need for sex though porn. Because I fear that his self-blame will further isolate him and may develop into resentment towards his wife, I encourage him to persist in bringing up the subject to his wife and to develop empathy towards his addiction disease.
When one is hurt and responds with blame, she/he is unconsciously motivated to hurt the other. That way, she/he is not suffering alone. This only further alienates the person causing the pain and breeds resentment and isolation. To express hurt brings the other towards the one hurting; blame pushes the other away.