The Blame Game
A vicious pattern that causes so much pain in your relationship
Imagine you’re playing a board game, and you don’t understand the rules fully.
Maybe you’d be able to push through and keep playing. Just for the fun of it.
But let’s also say that every time you play this game, not only do you not know the rules, but this game in particular isn’t fun at all.
This game actually sucks the life out of you. It drains you. Keeps you up at night, and makes you feel bad about yourself.
Not only this, but let’s also say this board game makes the person you care about the most in this life feel awful too.
Would you play?
As I type this out, I know I definitely don’t want to.
And yet, many of us play this game in our most important relationships.
What is the game? The Blame Game.
Dr. Sue Johnson, leading expert on forming secure relationships, and developer of the couples therapy model I use (Emotionally Focused Therapy) identifies how there are a few typical interaction patterns couples can fall into.
One of these being, as she calls it, the ‘Find the Bad Guy’ conversation.
When one person feels hurt or vulnerable, they might feel “cornered and flooded with fear” (Johnson, 2008, 69).
Then, out of this alarmed place, the person reacts in anger or preemptively blames/attacks their partner.
In other words, when one person feels attacked, they give accusation or blame.
Then the other person, once they receive this, they fire back with similar blame or accusations.
And it just keeps happening again and again.
The same conversation puts a weight on your connection.
'Find the Bad Guy' Pattern: Cyclical attacks, accusations, or blame
Sometimes, this back and forth only happens so often that when things are calm, repair and resolve can occur.
The couple can drift back to that safe place to where this doesn’t happen as often and they can talk about it.
Oftentimes though, when this pattern begins to wreak havoc on a couple, each person begins to see the relationship differently.
You might begin to see things as less satisfying than before, or even unsafe.
Maybe it feels like your partner doesn’t care, or that something is wrong with them.
As our perspectives of the relationship and of our partner begins to shift, we often become ‘trigger happy’ in our responses to each other.
We begin to protect ourselves from getting back to that hurt place by expecting the negativity; to react faster when we see it coming.
This unfortunately keeps the pattern going.
We get to the place where we can’t relax with our partner.
We can’t connect with them.
We can’t trust them.
Terrible place to be.
Awful game to be stuck in.
So how do we get out of this Blame Game?
First, couples need to recognize what is happening. That they are in the game.
The first step might be trying to shift their perspective from that of their partner, themselves, or the relationship is the problem.
Instead, pointing fingers at the pattern itself is a good place to begin.
This is what we often do in the beginning of couple’s therapy.
We slow things down, see what interaction pattern has been hitting your relationship, and gain clarity.
Once we have clarity, we can begin to take steps to not only de-escalate things, but to build trust.
To build bridges to where things don’t feel so stuck and lonely.
To get things to where you aren’t operating out of a place of pain and fear, but out of security and peace.
To where if hints of that pattern come back, it becomes a lot less overwhelming for both of you, and you both can not let this thing take over your relationship again.
I’m not sure where your relationship is.
It might be great a lot of the time, but sometimes you notice something getting between you and your partner, and it is hard to put your finger on it.
Or maybe it feels like you’ve been playing the Blame Game, and both people are just firing back and forth at each other, in self-protection mode.
Maybe you have no idea, but all you know is that you feel lonely in your relationship, and this is the worst place to be.
It’s never too late, or too early to ask for help.
You don’t have to fight this thing alone.
Let’s stop the game, and find peace.