Is it me or is it you - moving beyond blame in intimate relationships

It's only natural to try and make sense of problems we are having in our relationship by going on a hunt for whose to blame. It makes sense, doesn't it... if I can locate the problem in you or in myself, then I can fix it! In some situations this may be helpful. More often though, playing the 'blame game' can result in either feeling bad about ourselves or about our partner, becoming defensive or feeling hopeless, and therefore getting stuck about how to change the problem. It's not intuitive, but usually more useful to look at problems from a different perspective entirely, one where blaming has no place at all. For some of us, this can feel like giving up on things ever being better - if I don't find someone (or myself) to be at fault, then nothing will ever change! In fact, the opposite is true - change comes out of feeling hopeful that we can do things differently, and generate solutions as a team together. The following are a few questions that may help you shift your perspective away from 'find who's to blame" toward 'what do we want to do differently?' Next time you're feeling stuck about how to work through an issue together, ask - What is the actual problem here? For example, is our fight about who does the dishes about (1) needing to create a routine that feels fair and balanced (2) we are too stressed and time-poor to get on top of everything or (3) we aren't spending any time together, our free time is used on doing chores and working. Of course, there may be many more reasons why we are fighting about the dishes! The point is, depending on the explanation - our solution will be completely different. Using this example, solutions may be (1) developing an agreement about who does what at home that each of us agrees is fair, (2) putting in place strategies to manage stress better, which may include making some tough decisions about how to best use our precious spare time (e.g. going for a walk rather than doing the dishes!) or (3) making a regular time to really connect with each other, and realising this may have to take priority over other competing demands for our time. Another question that can move us away from blame and towards finding useful solutions may include - what is the NEED that I am or my partner is trying to express here? Using the same example - my complaint that you are not doing the dishes often enough may reflect a number of different needs - to be treated fairly, to have more connecting time, or to feel less stressed. Taking the time to figure out underlying needs that either partner is expressing is more likely to lead to helpful solutions. Finally, you may try thinking about - are we expressing incompatible needs? This can feel like a scary place to go as a couple - if we have incompatible needs, maybe we are in trouble! This need not be the case. Often needs that cannot be met at the same time can be thought about and attended to with some careful sequencing and thinking through. For example, right now I need to be alone to reduce my stress. Once I'm calm, it's important that I attend to your need to connect with me. To sum up - moving from BLAMING to understanding and meeting NEEDS may not be the magic formula for solving any problem, but will equip you with the tools to go through a process that will at least clarify the issues and open the way to creative problem-solving!



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