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take responsibility
January 26, 2001
4:22 pm
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Practical Psychology is a weekly newspaper column I have been writing
for over 18 years. It is designed to address psychological topics
that are most useful to its readers. Please feel free to re-print any
of them in any form you wish. I ask only that you give the
information about how to subscribe and credit for authorship. Thanks.

MARITAL BLAME OR CHANGE?

By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

If you are like most partners, any problem that arises in your
relationship can very easily be solved, IF ONLY THE OTHER PERSON WOULD
CHANGE. Solutions to relationship problems are always clear...the
other person needs to think, feel, behave, or respond differently.
"If only s/he would change, then I would be happier...right?" Wrong!

As long as you view the solution to be found in the other person
changing, you give them all the power and control over the situation.
You become dependent on them to make all the relationship changes, and
you undermine your own sense of personal power and control.

If it is your partner's behavior, habits, values, attitudes, or
personality traits that are "at fault," then is totally up to them to
make the situation (or problems) better. And if it is up to them, you
have the power and control over neither your partner nor the solution.
By blaming your partner, you have rendered yourself helpless,
powerless, and dependent.

Trying to solve any problem by changing something about your
partner only leads to frustration. It is no wonder that if you are
into the "blaming game," you feel helpless and angry! Blaming merely
gives your partner all the power to solve any given problem and keeps
you powerless. Perhaps without you even being aware of it, you begin
to put subtle (and maybe not so subtle) pressure on your partner to
change. You may "zing" them with witty barbs, become sarcastic,
openly hassle them, threaten some catastrophe, sulk, go silent, scream
or "explode." All this stress in your life because you can't make
your partner change.

Blaming the other for a problem can go on for years. Wife blames
husband for being cold, critical, angry, unresponsive, inconsiderate,
unloving, unaffectionate and sexually demanding. Husband blames wife
for nagging, never being satisfied, critical, disapproving, always
getting her own way, never giving credit, unappreciative of how hard
he works to "provide," and sexually manipulative or unresponsive. And
the "Blaming Game" goes on and on, primarily because it provides one
with some temporary relief from guilt and responsibility. Ultimately
however, blaming fails to change the partner and increases one's own
anger, frustration and hopelessness.

If you are caught up in the Blaming Game and want to extract
yourself, it might be more hopeful and helpful to redefine the problem
in a way that makes it solvable by a change in your own behavior.
That you can control! This will enable you to identify what you can
do to make your relationship better. It will also give you more
confidence in your own ability to address an issue and solve it.
Complaining about your partner never solves anything.

One way to promote change in yourself is to ask, "How do I
contribute to the problem?" Avoid self-blame, but become interested
in identifying what you do that adds to the difficulty. Do you know
your partner well? Do you know what his/her wants, needs, feelings,
thoughts and beliefs are? Everyone usually behaves in ways that they
believe are best for themselves. Is your own ignorance of your
partner contributing to the ongoing problem? How do you behave when
you are needy and not having those needs addressed by either your
spouse or yourself? Do you withdraw, become angry, become critical
and tyrannical? Are you willing to let your needs be known in a
simple, direct manner and then follow up by asking for something that
would address your need(s)? Do you carry a grudge, keep your
resentments inside, fearfully hide them? Can you begin forgiving for
your own sake?

If you resist redefining problems in terms of your own behavior and
what you do to contribute to the creation and maintenance of them,
consider what you have to lose! Since you cannot change the other, if
you fail to change yourself, how will the relationship turn out? Will
you separate or divorce? Will you go on being unhappy for years?
Then turn the question around. What have you got to lose by changing
some of your own behavior? After all, no one can change you unless
you choose to change. What have you got to gain by altering some of
your habits, especially those which create or maintain the problem?
Will your changes create more closeness, better communication, fulfill
your needs better, or create a mutually fulfilling marriage? Might
not these consequences be worth some effort at changing yourself
instead of blaming your partner?

Consider well...blame or change. Which has the higher probability
of working out the way you want?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.

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