Did you know that during the daytime, sunflowers all turn towards the sun, but at night they all turn towards one another? I love that picture from nature. We are hardwired to need nourishment from both God (the source, the sun for flowers) and also from community. When it’s dark, when it’s cold, when we don’t see or understand, we need community and connection. How’s your community and connection going lately? We’ll be starting some new Walking in Core Strength Coaching groups in September. Stay tuned if you’re interested in developing your CORE with a small group of like-minded women.
Question: My husband and I are trapped in the Blame Game. He is definitely emotionally abusive and my marriage has been destructive since day one. For a long time, 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 scapegoating and turns it back on me.
At times, I genuinely do get confused and 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 I 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 all these years.
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 are just as righteous. Therein lies the problem. The blame game never promotes anyone’s healing, growth, insight, awareness, or change. Never.
It always is hurtful and unproductive. It fuels negativity and keeps the destructive dance going. [Tweet “It’s a power struggle around who is more right and who is more wrong and playing it will keep you stuck.”] The blame game keeps you from asking good questions or being curious about his side of the street or understanding the changes you want/need to make on how you want to show up for conversations, discussions, or even arguments.
But please 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. Churches do it. Companies do it. Nations do it. Nevermore so than in our current cultural climate.
The blame game happens when no one wants to accept responsibility or look within to see what part of the problem is WITH ME. But as you participate in this destructive game, it will hurt you, hurt your husband and hurt your marriage more than it already is. Participating in it will keep you from walking in CORE strength and keep you from being the example of Christ to your destructive spouse and children 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 in love. [Tweet “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 video. Chapter 9 of the same book talks about how to speak up in love).
Here’s what often happens. Once an abused woman starts to regain her voice, she’s tempted to flip his accusations or abuse right back at her abuser. It feels better than being a helpless victim but now you’re both going at it, blaming and accusing, demonizing and attacking. No one is really listening. No one is reflecting. No one is curious or asking questions. 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 have wise discernment about what’s going on. 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 and graciously because we also recognize we too are imperfect and weak in some areas. 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 see clearly what he is doing is wrong. Instead, we feel brokenhearted. We feel sad 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. How tragic. And we also take appropriate steps to keep ourselves and our children safe from continued abuse.
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. Your abuser may continue to believe that lie but if you want to build your CORE and get healthy you must change.
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. Instead, where you can, validate whatever pain or truth he is saying. 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. And for me, it’s equally tough to live in a loveless marriage. 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 all by yourself in the current state of your marriage. 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 or he speaks in 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 get exhausted and blow up or give in.
But now you know how to do something different. Instead of blaming him for your blow-up by saying something like – “You’re so controlling – or domineering”, you will 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. For example, you can 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 powerful enough to remove 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 him or her to stop and reflect on what was said by asking questions or by repeating what you are being accused of.
He blames – “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 won’t take the blame for the choices you have made.”
These examples are ways to speak authentic truth, without getting into blaming, accusing, or demonizing. Listen, validate where you can, show compassion for their distress, acknowledge your own limitations without apology, ask questions, along with good boundaries by taking responsibility for yourself, your feelings, and choices while behaving responsibly and respectfully.
These changes on your end will help you get out of the blame game and behave in alignment with the godly woman you want to be even if your marriage continues to deteriorate. Let us know how it goes.
Friends, when you have found yourself playing that game, what steps did you take to break free?
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This is so incredibly helpful. I have the exact same situation as this person. Now I know where I’m going wrong, and how to get going in the right direction. Thank you.
This is so good and helpful…thank you! But there is no Ezekiel 21:44 so I was wondering which verse?
Oops, that should be Ezekiel 20:44 – thank you Shan!
A narcissist doesn’t have conversations, only verbal competitions.
You lost me at “he is definitely emotionally abusive and our marriage is destructive.” Why oh, why are you in such a relationship? When did you lose your self respect? Who devalued you and who taught you it is acceptable to be mistreated? The solution to your situation is to remove yourself in every way, shape and form from this marriage. Get therapy so you can relearn self talk, accept reality and see your role in the craziness. Blame has nothing to do with your problem, denial is your real problem. You are denying how horrific your life really is at the moment. Change your circumstances, so you can live life to the fullest.
I totally understand what you’re saying, but it does take time to change one’s circumstances. Sometimes to leave a spouse is financially impossible. Facing reality is one thing, making a plan to change one’s reality is another. It takes wisdom and forethought, not knee-jerk reaction. It involves putting protections in place so that one’s new life/reality cannot be sabotaged by an Ex.
Thank you so much for this! It’s exactly what I need to help me deal with conflict in my marriage. This answers many questions I have about how to stay in CORE when these types of situations arise. Thank you for giving practical examples of what to say and how to say it.. Its difficult to remain honorable in a destructive marriage. I’ve failed at doing this, especially when I am triggered, attacked, taunted, or insulted. I have lobbed my own retaliatory bombs, which isn’t Christlike or God-honoring. Coming across this article at this time isn’t by accident. This is affirmation of God’s love and watch are over me. God hears my cries for help!