Communication Killers: Blame

Couple fighting


blame /blām/
verb: blame; 3rd person present: blames; past tense: blamed; past participle: blamed; gerund or present participle: blaming
  1. assign responsibility for a fault or wrong.
    “The board of inquiry blamed the engineer for the accident”

What it looks like in relationships

Blaming someone for something is assigning responsibility for a fault or a wrong. In relationships, blame often takes the form of score-keeping or overt assigning of fault, where one partner blames the other for something that went wrong. This blame game is associated with defensiveness and criticism, and it can further poison the relationship. Regardless of how it presents, blame is an attempt to vent pain. However, blame won’t help as much as you might think in the heat of the moment.

What to do about it: Accept Responsibility & and Look for Hidden Desires

The antidote for blame is to accept responsibility, even if only for some parts of the situation. Accepting responsibility reduces the strain on the conversation and in your own mind, allowing you to capture those chances for connection with your partner. Quite often, when blame is part of the conflict, taking a closer look at the situation reveals that the person doing the blaming is secretly longing for something they may not even be able to put into words yet. When you show them that you are willing to help shoulder the burden of the tension, they are far more likely to find the words to express those deeper needs and wants.

In the Communication Killers series of posts, blame is one of the six most toxic communication patterns identified by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman. They caution that these dynamics will poison any relationship, not just romantic ones. Moving away from blame is crucial for healthy communication and relationships.

Why it is important to move away from blame

Here’s a short (and funny!) video by Dr. Brené Brown about Blame and how toxic it is in our lives.

To learn more about communication patterns and improving relationships, read other articles in the Couples and Marriage Counseling category.

*Updated July 7, 2023

To learn more about red flags to look out for and how to fix them, please visit my Couples Counseling page. Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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