Blaming is when your partner tells you that you caused something bad, whether or not you actually did. You can be blamed for your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, as well as any situation in the past, present, or future (e.g. “It’s because of you that we will never have money”).
What is the Difference Between Blaming and Complaining?
Blaming is directly attributing fault. Complaining is saying what we don’t like, but there is no direct attribution of fault. Let’s look at two examples:
“Because of you, we never have any fun.”
“It’s your fault we don’t have any money in the bank.”
“If you didn’t hang out with your friend all the time, we would get along better.”
“I hate it that we don’t have any fun in this relationship.”
“I don’t like the way all of our money goes to buying unnecessary things.”
“I don’t like you hanging around with your friend all the time.”
For some people, these will sound like exactly the same thing. That is because they mentally add the attribution part. That is, although their spouse didn’t say it, they mentally add on to their spouse’s statement “because of me.” Then they react to their partner’s statement plus their own addition. They react as though they were blamed.
Mind reading gives power to the complaint
If you mentally add on to what your partner is saying, it allows your partner to be more effective at saying less while also being able to deny saying it. So, in regard to the complaining example above, if you say, “So, it’s my fault that we don’t’ have any fun?” your partner can easily reply, “I didn’t say that.”
Not mind-reading promotes openness and talking by your spouse
If you don’t mentally add the blame piece, your partner has to actually say the attribution in order to blame you. If you have a passive partner, it’s particularly important to only take what he or she actually says, so as not to be codependent for the limited communication. That is, if you want your partner to talk more, you have to stop mind reading, even if your mind reading is 100% right.
Distinguishing Blame from Verbal Abuse
I think it’s important to be able to distinguish clearly between blame and verbal abuse. From my perspective as a marriage and relationship coach, it is important to make this distinction because the method for dealing with each of these behaviors is different. When someone is being verbally abused, I recommend the immediate use of a boundary such as walking away with no further communication—what I call a “zero tolerance policy,” for abuse. With blame, however, it is more helpful to work on changing the communication. Walking away would be counterproductive. Rather than taking power away from the blamer, it would give more power to him or her.
You need to decide where you will draw the line, because that is the action point
Verbal abuse can come in different forms and is somewhat subjective. Some of my clients draw the line differently than I do. Instead of getting them to change where they draw the line, we focus on what to do when the line is crossed. For me, verbal abuse happens when someone calls us a bad name (as opposed to a good name), compares us to something else which is bad, or otherwise disparages our character. Here are examples of each:
A bad name:
“You are a slut,”
“You are a selfish bastard,”
“You are stupid,” etc.
A bad comparison:
“You are like a vampire, sucking out my life and happiness”
“You are like a monster,”
“You are like a mentally retarded person”
“You are unlovable,”
“You are nothing but a “@#$@ing” liar”
“You don’t care about anyone but yourself”
Wherever you draw your line between abuse and blaming, be sure that you live according to your standard on both the receiving and the giving end.
You will lose a lot of respect if you either allow your partner to abuse you or if you abuse your partner. Losing respect is one of the fastest routes to losing your relationship. There is no “half-way,” with abuse. Either it is, or it isn’t. Also, there is no “sometimes acceptable,” with abuse. Either it is always acceptable, or it is always unacceptable. Saying “He (or she) only abused me a little,” is a ridiculous as saying, “He only got me pregnant a little.”
If you are the victim of verbal abuse, there is a lot you can do to stop the abuse and save your relationship (in that order).
First, you will need to decide for yourself exactly where you draw the line on verbal abuse. Then, you will need to inform your partner not only of that line, but also of your boundary actions whenever that line is crossed. My clients and I work on this statement so that it is both tough and loving at the same time. Too much one way of the other will mean less effectiveness and less respect. Then, you wait for the verbal abuse to happen and put your boundaries into action. If you have read my book, What to Do When He Won’t Change, then you will understand why the people who are the most verbally abusive can change faster than people who are only occasionally verbally abusive. This is good news for people who want to stop being a victim and improve their marriage or relationship.