If you’re a parent, you know what it’s like to be up at an ungodly hour with a screaming baby, trying to figure out how to calm her down – is she hungry, wet, or needing to burp? Does she hate me? Am I failing as a mother?
I found myself in that exact struggle with my four week old, when my husband, who works late into the night, came through the door.
He asked if I was ok. I glared at him, and snapped at his offer to help. Because somehow, it was all his fault.
Blame is one of the most corrosive elements in any relationship.
Why do we blame? Researcher Brene Brown has studied blame, and identified these triggers for blaming:
Pain – You want it to be someone’s fault, because it helps take you out of feeling hurt and uncomfortable.
Anger – Blame is a way to discharge anger and direct it towards someone – or in my case, someone other than my baby. If anger is the bullet, blame is the gun.
Overwhelm – When things have been too much to handle, blame is your way of putting the burden on someone else – whether they deserve it or not.
Control – Blame gives some degree of comfort when you feel out of control. When so much is uncertain, figuring out whose fault it is provides a measure of relief.
In a weird way, it feels good to blame. At least in the five seconds that you’re doing it.
But when you make a habit of blaming.you quickly use up any amount of goodwill you have stored up with your loved one. It’s a great way to create mutual misery.
So how do you break the habit of blaming? Here are some suggestions:
1. Talk about problems before they reach a critical flash point. Address concerns early and often, before they build up and you explode.
Easier said than done! When you are in a pattern of blaming, the target of your blame may already feel primed to interpret everything as criticism. So it’s really hard to address things “nicely” or “non-violently”, even if that is your intention.
How do you talk about it in a way that is less triggering?
2. Ask for help. Instead of saying “I’m always washing your freaking cereal bowl!”, author Jonathan Robinson suggests saying “I need your help.” It’s a beautiful way to invite someone to step forward from a place of caring, instead of triggering defensiveness.
3. Remember that conversations end the way they begin. Relationship researcher John Gottman stresses the importance of the “gentle start-up” when it comes to broaching a touchy topic.
Setting the tone with a request for help, rather than pointing out what’s wrong, greatly increases your chances of getting what you want and need.
As for me, the next time my husband walked in wanting to help, I calmly (I hope) gave him the baby, prepared two bottles of milk, and slept in the other room. The next day, we agreed to take turns doing night duty with the baby, so that the other could get a good night’s sleep.
No blame necessary.
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