What's Behind Blame?

anger blame communication
An illustration of a couple standing back-to-back looking frustrated. The feminine person has their arms crossed. The masculine person has their hand on their temple. The title reads What's Behind Blame? The instagram handle @DrTracyD and the web address www.DrTracyD.com

One of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is Criticism, often called Blame. A familiar companion to defensiveness, this pattern of communication can trickle into your partnership and create daily miscommunications, negative repeating cycles, and greater disconnection. In fact, research by Dr. John Gottman shows that couples are more dissatisfied and more likely to separate when they use these negative communication patterns.

So just what does criticism look like?

It’s an attack on the other person, making broad-stroke generalizations against your partner’s character, and using definitive language while focusing outward. This blaming approach often leads the other person to feel more defensive, or to one-up what is being said. As a result, your negative cycle starts to take over. If you’re not sure what your cycle is, take my free quiz here.

When we anchor into criticism and blame, feelings of anger and frustration often arise. What can trigger that anger? Sometimes it’s when our partners…

  • Leave dishes in the sink
  • Arrive home late from work (without informing you)
  • Don’t know the kids’ schedule
  • Overshare with their mother
  • Ask what’s for dinner
  • Play video games at night

    … and a million of other possible triggers

So, what’s behind the blame?

Anger is one of those emotions that has a whole ocean of other feelings swimming beneath the surface. Despite society teaching women that they shouldn’t feel angry (or if you do, you’re too bossy or the other b word), this emotion can actually help us understand what we need and feel.

Like fear, shame, guilt, abandonment, and rejection– to name a few.

Let’s use the example of your partner playing video games in the evening after work. You’re scrubbing the dishes after having put the babe to bed, and you start to scrub harder and harder. Anger surges through you. You drain the sink and with heavy footsteps you enter the living room to say, “You never help out!” The thoughts and perceptions swirling in your mind sound like, “Why do I have to work and you get to relax? You’re so inconsiderate, lazy, and childish.”

But when this story shows up in my therapy room, I often hear something different (which is what I teach you how to identify inside Be Connected in the comfort of your own home).

What’s behind the anger?

  • Here are just some things I have explored with clients…
  • Sadness. “I feel sad they don’t want to spend time with me.”
  • Rejection. “I’m not as important as their videogame.”
  • Shame: “I can’t keep this house afloat. I shouldn't struggle so much to do it all.”
  • Loneliness: “I’m the only one who knows everything that needs to get done. I don’t get to talk with him about our days when he’s playing. I feel isolated and unseen.”

When we start identifying the emotions beneath the surface, we find vulnerability and pain. Vulnerability offers the opportunity for understanding and compassion, creating the bridge toward connectivity.

I know what you’re thinking. “But this doesn’t solve the dishes.” And you’re right. But we need connection and understanding before we can find solutions. The goal is for both partners to feel seen and understood– a connection that will then spur on the behaviour change, rather than a forced, surface-level change that breeds resentment in both people.

So, this week, I challenge you to dig beneath the surface to find out what’s behind the blame in your relationship. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of resentment, you can check out my Conquer Resentment Workshop for more helpful tools in shifting away from blame and anger toward a more vulnerable and connected relationship.

Dr. Tracy