I wish I could meet all of you. You bless my heart the way you encourage, strengthen and support one another. Maybe someday we can have a retreat, or conference where we can all come together and meet one another, give each other a hug, have fun, share our growth and our struggles, pray together and continue to encourage each other in our journeys.
I’m often reminded that Satan wants us to believe either we don’t matter, or we’re the only one who matters. Friends, these two lies are different sides of the same coin. Self-hatred and self-absorption still center us on SELF and not on God. Similarly many of us put people (spouses) at our center and become overly distraught, anxious, fearful and/or controlling because we believe the lie that our well-being depends on another person valuing us, needing us, or loving us like we crave.
The truth is we do matter and we’re not the only one who matters. The truth is that we do need people to care for us and love us but they will never do it as perfectly as we desire. Nor will we be able to do it for them. That’s why it’s so dangerous to put them at your center.
This leads me to our question for today – how do we move beyond the blame game.
Question: How do I deal with the blame-game that my husband and I are trapped in? He is definitely emotionally abusive and my marriage has been destructive since day one. It was shocking and subtle at first so I hid it from others, including myself.
Now that I finally see the truth and have been working on my CORE and calling out my husband’s inappropriate behavior, we are caught in a vortex of pointing fingers at each other.
Him blaming me for everything is a hallmark of our entire marriage. Now that I am actually doing it back to him (I believe with righteous perspective and motives) he ramps up his scape-goating and turns it back on me.
At times, I get confused and actually start to question my version of events and my ability to interpret reality and make good judgments. Sometimes I feel like I am just as bad as he is, accusing and demonizing him as he does to me. How do we get out of this maddening cycle?
Answer: First let me applaud you for your question. It takes courage to admit that you are not handling things well and that you now see yourself accusing and demonizing your husband as he has done to you. You are convinced that your motive is good and your perspective right–but I bet your husband is equally convinced that his perspective and motive is just as righteous. Therein lies the problem. The blame game never promotes healing, growth, insight, awareness, or change. It is hurtful. It fuels negativity and keeps the destructive dance going. It’s a power struggle about who is more right, who is more wrong and it keeps us from taking personal responsibility for whatever our part is and changing it.
Don’t be overly hard on yourself for getting caught in this cycle. The blame game started in The Garden of Eden when Adam blamed Eve and then Eve blamed the serpent. It is instinctive and pervasive. People do it. Couples do it. Children do it. Companies do it. Nations do it. The blame game happens when no one wants to accept responsibility or look within to see where the problem is. But as you participate in this destructive game, it will hurt you, hurt your husband and damage your marriage more. Participating in it will keep you from walking in CORE strength and keep you from being the example of Christ to your destructive spouse that you desire to be.
Let me remind you (and our readers) of the four components of CORE strength:
C – I will be COMMITTED to honesty, internal and external – no more pretending. (I believe this is what you are trying to practice by refuting his attempts to blame you for everything, which is good. However, turning around and blaming him negates the last two elements of CORE strength).
O – I will be OPEN to wise others and the Holy Spirit to teach me new ways of thinking, feeling, responding, so that I can grow whole and healthy. (This is why you’ve asked your question. Good for you.)
R – I will be RESPONSIBLE for myself and RESPECTFUL towards others (including my destructive spouse), without dishonoring myself. This is where you are struggling. By demonizing and accusing him, you are not being respectful and you dishonor yourself by paying back evil for evil and behaving in a way that is inconsistent with the person you say you want to be. This is one reason you are in turmoil and feel unsettled by things.
E – I will be EMPATHIC and COMPASSIONATE towards my destructive spouse without ENABLING the abuse to continue. Lobbing verbal bombs of your own – even if they are the truth, is not speaking the truth with love. Hard words need not be harsh words. To read more on CORE strength read Chapter 7 of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage or watch this YouTube video . Chapter 9 of the same book talks about how to speak up in love. Click here for more information.
Once an abused woman starts to regain her voice, she’s tempted to flip his accusations or abuse right back on him. Then you’re both going at it, blaming and accusing, demonizing and attacking. No one is really listening. No one is reflecting. No one is changing. Paul reminds us, “But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another” (Galatians 5:15).
Remember having compassion and empathy for a person does not mean you enable their sin or the attitude behind it. However having empathy for your husband’s blindness helps you stay mindful that you too are blind to some things and without God opening your eyes, you wouldn’t have seen the truth either. Therefore we don’t judge, which helps keep us out of the blame/attack game.
When the Bible tells us not to judge, it doesn’t mean we don’t label something correctly or call a spade a spade. It just means that when we call something by its right name such as deceit, or abuse, we also are very aware that we also have the same proclivity within us as well. That’s why Jesus reminds us to take the log out of our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
When we do choose to speak truth to someone, we do it gently because we also recognize we too are weak. We too sin (Galatians 6:1). We too are blind to things. We too have trouble resisting the blame game. We too believe we’re all right and someone else is all wrong.
Not judging means we refuse to have a superior or contemptuous attitude towards our abusive spouse, even when we now see clearly what he is doing is wrong. Instead we feel brokenhearted. We feel compassion that he is so lost in his sin and blindness that he would sink so low as to ruin his own life and his family without even recognizing what he is doing.
The blame game comes from an underlying belief that everyone or everything outside of me is responsible for how I feel or act. That’s a lie. He may continue to believe that lie but if you want to build your CORE, you must stop.
Here’s a different approach. You won’t necessarily do all of these, pick one and see if it changes the dynamics between the two of you. If not and he continues to blame and accuse you, then you will have a clear conscience that you have done all you can do. Remember, the person you always have to live with is yourself, so with Christ’s strength, you want to conduct yourself honorably even in a dishonorable marriage. You want to be free to respond out of who you are, not react out of the painful situation of your marriage. (For an example of God doing this see Ezekiel 20:44).
First, instead of reacting and blaming him, listen. Respectfully hear him out. Don’t retaliate, or repay evil for evil. Validate whatever pain or truth he is saying and take responsibility for your own choices or mistakes or feelings.
For example, if he’s angry that you won’t be intimate with him and it’s your fault that he watches porn because you won’t be intimate and it’s your fault your marriage is where it is because of your hard heart, etc. etc.
You can validate and show compassion – “I’m sure it is very tough to live in a sexless marriage. I’m finding it hard myself. But it’s equally tough to live in a loveless marriage and I don’t know how to be physically intimate with someone who doesn’t love me or want anything to do with me except have sex.”
This is taking responsibility for your choice not to have sex, it’s owning that you have no idea how to fix this in the current state of your marriage all by yourself. You are compassionate with his feelings but not enabling his self-deception to continue that he is entitled to use your body when he feels like it but disregard your soul or spirit.
If your spouse doesn’t allow you to respond and uses monologue instead of dialogue, continuing to listen might not be the best approach as it will wear you down with his endless ranting and accusing and pretty soon you can’t stand it anymore and blow up or give in.
Therefore instead of blaming him for your blow up by saying something like – “You’re so controlling – or domineering” Take responsibility for yourself by saying, “I can’t continue to listen well anymore. This is wearing me down. I’m taking a break.”
Acknowledge your limitations when he blames you for general things like the poor behavior of your children or his own personal unhappiness. Say something like, “I wish our kids were behaving better too, but I don’t believe I’m responsible for the choices they make at this age. They know right from wrong.” Or “I see you are very unhappy, but I spent the first 10 years of our marriage doing all I knew to do to make you happy. It didn’t work. I’m not capable of fixing your unhappiness inside.” Or “I don’t’ think I’m capable of removing every problem or every irritation in our lives so that you don’t feel stressed.”
Ask questions. When someone is on a blame attack, sometimes you can get them to stop and reflect on what they are saying by asking questions or repeating what they have accused you of.
He says “It’s your fault I got fired from my job today. Things are so bad at home I just can’t function at work?”
You can respond by saying, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but we’re all hurting here. Are you saying I’m responsible for how you function or don’t function at work? If you were feeling so distraught, why didn’t you get some help so you could function better? I can’t take the blame for the choices you have made.”
These examples are ways of speaking the truth, without blaming, accusing, or demonizing. Listen, validate where you can, show compassion for their distress, express your own limitations, ask questions, take responsibility for yourself, your own feelings and choices while behaving responsibly and respectfully towards your spouse. These changes will help you get out of the blame game. Let us know how it goes.
Friends, when you have found yourself playing that game, what steps did you take to break free?
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’ve written another blog on it if you’d like to have a Biblical Response to Domestic Violence check out www.christianpsych.org/wp_scp/blog/ My book Lord, I Just Want to be Happy has been released. TODAY (Monday October 5, 2009), there is a ½ price special on my website at www.cart.leslievernick/category/books/…
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