How to Get Your Spouse to Stop Blaming You

Blaming is one of several damaging behaviors that people unwittingly reward their spouse for doing. Just as giving candy to a tantruming child won’t result in fewer tantrums, your reactions to your spouse’s blaming may be getting you more and more blaming.

blame and anger damages relationships
Would your spouse keep blaming you if you responded securely instead of reacting?

It makes a difference whether your spouse blames you a lot or a little. People who blame a little often have legitimate things to blame for. If our relationship with them is otherwise good, we need to take their concerns seriously, because they are probably right, even if they don’t express it in a good way.

On the other hand, people who blame a lot often actively look for things to blame their spouse or others for. They may check to make sure you paid the bill on time, sent someone a thank you note, or left the light on in the bathroom.

People who have spouses that blame a lot feel either guilty or controlled. Though at first they may work to fix what their spouse perceives as problems, they eventually conclude it is not possible to please their spouse. No matter how well they do things, they will always be blamed for something. The end result is emotional and physical distancing.

I have actually worked with some people who believed if they blamed their spouse enough, they would have a good relationship. If you are such a person, you need to learn that you can never criticize, complain, or blame people into a better relationship. You will only get short term compliance and long term damage.

If we see blaming as a personality issue, such as narcissism, it will lead us to either divorce or wish that we were. Most people who blame, however, are not narcissists. Although narcissists do blame, not everyone who blames is a narcissist. If you are dealing with your spouse by avoiding your spouse, you have already determined your spouse has an unfixable flaw and you feel like a victim.

The fact is that before doing the proper skills to improve our situation, it is not possible to determine if it is fixable. My advice is to assume your problem is fixable, whether it is or not. That will help you to stop victimizing yourself with your inaction.

If we see blaming as a behavioral problem, like a bad habit or an addiction, then we can begin to see that not only do we have a responsibility to help our spouses with this problem, we probably created the problem in the first place by rewarding our spouses for blaming.

Insecure people train their spouses to blame much more often than secure people. Secure people will not put up with blaming from the start. So either the other person is disqualified as a marriage candidate, or the other person learns very quickly that blaming will not only not work, but will make things worse for them.

Make sure you are not being oversensitive

It is worth mentioning that some people are oversensitive to any signs of blaming from their spouse due to being blamed frequently as a child. Such oversensitive people may read in blame where it doesn’t exist. If you don’t know the difference between someone not liking your cooking to someone blaming you for your cooking, you might fall into that category.

Overly sensitive people tend to read into what the other person is saying rather than reacting to what the person actually is saying. Learning to respond to what your spouse is actually saying, whether blaming or not, will solve many of the relationship problems in your marriage.

People who blame a lot usually resist looking at their role or contribution to problems.

If you are blamed for being impatient, for example, your spouse may not take any thought to why that might be so and how he or she may be contributing.  You may be blamed for being sexually unresponsive but your partner may never take a look at the way he or she treats you during sex and at other times, too.  You may be blamed for being a bad parent by a partner who never takes his or her turn at parenting.

How to stop rewarding your spouse for blaming you.

If your spouse blames you too much, here are some steps you can take:

  • Listen with ears open and mouth shut to what your spouse is actually saying–the words themselves and not the implications of the words.
  • Do not apologize for what you are being blamed for.
  • Do not explain why you did whatever it was.
  • Do not promise to not do it again.
  • Look for the truth in what you are being blamed for. If necessary, take up to one day to think about it.
  • If you can’t find any truth in the blaming, seek clarification why what you did was a bad thing.
  • Again, try to find the truth in the explanation.
  • Admit to your behavior or offer to work together on solving the problem.
  • Be sure not to blame back, even if it is your spouse’s fault.

Example: Your spouse comes to you and says, You didn’t pay the electric bill. First, consider if this is blame, an accusation, or simply information. If you didn’t pay the electric bill, it is simply information. Thank your spouse for the information as in this example:

  • Your spouse: You didn’t pay the electric bill again.
  • You: I didn’t? Oh thank you for letting me know.

Notice that although this is not blame, you still do not apologize, explain, or promise. Those things can reward your spouse and contribute to your spouse becoming a blamer. Just be normal or err on the side of being positive.

If you did indeed pay the electric bill, then ask your spouse for clarification:

  • Your spouse : You didn’t pay the electric bill again.
  • You: What makes you say that?
  • Your spouse: Sometimes you forget.
  • You: Sometimes I do.

Another example:

  • Your spouse: You are cheating on me.
  • You: What makes you say that?
  • Your spouse: You are going out and not telling me who you are going with.
  • You: That’s true.

The key point is still the same, don’t apologize, explain, defend, or promise, as that will lead to increased accusations rather than fewer accusations. That’s because apologizing, explaining, defending, or promising is experienced as a reward by your spouse. People who accuse are either trying to provoke or are seeking reassurance.

Just as in junior high school the more you can be provoked, the more you will be provoked.

And, if you are blamed, meaning your spouse tells you that something bad is your fault, admit to any truth.

  • Spouse: It’s your fault we are overdrawn at the bank.
  • You: Yeah, I spent more money from our checking than we had in our account.

If there is no truth, seek clarification. Clarification often does reveal some truth in what our spouse is saying.

  • Spouse: It’s your fault we are overdrawn at the bank.
  • You: Oh? What makes you say that?
  • Spouse: Because you spent $300 on clothes when we only had $200 in our account.
  • You: Oh, that’s right. I guess I did spend more than we had.

On the other hand, if there is no truth, it will be more like this:

  • Spouse: It’s your fault we are overdrawn at the bank.
  • You: Oh? What makes you say that?
  • Spouse: Because we got this penalty from the bank.
  • You: Would you like to go over the expenses to see why that happened?

Secure people admit to the truth without becoming defensive. They are not easily provoked. As a result, they are not often blamed.

Be careful not to blame your spouse back

Even if something is your spouse’s fault. Fighting fire with fire just creates a bigger fire. Instead, offer to work together with your spouse to fix the problem. If it not something you are willing to change, then be up front about it. Don’t say you will work on it and then continue to do the same thing.

For example:

  • Your spouse: You are always overspending our budget so we can’t get ahead.
  • You: That does happen a lot. Would you like us to work on figuring out how to manage the money better.
  • Your spouse: You just need to stop overspending.
  • You: That’s not going to happen with the way things are now and with my needs. My best offer is to work with you on creating a different system. If you don’t want to do that, it will keep happening. Let me know if you change your mind and want to work on it.

Now, I bet you think that such a response will inflame the situation. Actually, it is a boundary, so your spouse won’t like it. Boundaries always cause initial conflict but lead to long term improvement. If instead of using a boundary you promise to do better with your spending and the problem keeps happening, your relationship will be far worse.

Promises appease people in the short term but create more division and reward blaming and critical behavior.

Get in the habit of saying what you will and won’t do and say it in a calm way. Admitting you are a messy person and won’t be changing is far better than fighting about your right to be messy, trying to explain why you are messy, or making promises not to be messy again. If you do those needy behaviors now, think about whether they have made things worse or better.

Your spouse does not have to like everything about you! And, you don’t have to do everything your spouse wants. The same goes for your mother and for your kids. It doesn’t make you or them bad people. My wife doesn’t like it that I forget many things that she says. I just tell her that I’m pretty lucky she was crazy enough to marry me anyway.

Don’t forget to otherwise maintain your relationship

As long as you don’t have any of the needy behaviors that damage relationships, are continuing to be an attractive man or woman for your spouse, and are helping your spouse to enjoy your relationship, your spouse will no longer receive any reward for blaming you.

If you are not maintaining your relationship, your spouse may blame you for little things. That is a divorce warning sign. Blaming for little things is a way to create conflict which leads to emotional distance.

If you can’t stop yourself from being reactive

If you are always triggered by your spouse blaming you, and despite your best efforts, you are unable or unwilling to find any truth in what your spouse says, you have a self esteem issue. You are unable to accept any idea that you could have made a mistake or be less than perfect.

People with good self esteem are able to admit to their mistakes and imperfections, and even laugh at themselves. They don’t allow others to mistreat them, and don’t feel a need to put down others in order to feel better about themselves.

My personal expectation is that I will make mistakes every day. When someone points one out to me, I am not surprised at all. For example, I frequently schedule people incorrectly. We will agree to meet the following Tuesday and I will schedule them for Wednesday. Or, I will make a payment error or forget to include something in someone’s notes. When my client lets me know I made a mistake, I simply thank them, verify it, and correct my mistake.

If my wife tells me that I did something wrong, I tell her that I am not at all surprised and ask her what it is. I will often laugh at myself. I like who I am, despite my faults and don’t get bent out of shape if someone else notices I have faults, too. Now, if a client becomes belligerent, I will end their coaching. I do not need to work with such people. Fortunately most of the people I work with are nice people that just need skills training to mend their relationships.

Don’t blame your spouse for blaming. Help your spouse with action steps instead.

Helping your spouse to stop a damaging behavior is a loving thing to do just as much as it would be with a child. If you want to help your spouse to stop blaming you and create a win-win for you and your spouse, take these three steps:

  • First make sure you are not doing any damaging things to your relationship. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:5 to take the log out of our own eye before taking the splinter out of the other person’s eye. That works great because it ends all reactive behaviors our spouse has.
  • Secondly, make sure you are using good boyfriend or girlfriend connection skills with your spouse. Paying the bills and taking care of kids is necessary, but not sufficient for maintaining a relationship. Don’t expect loving behavior from someone who doesn’t feel desired.
  • Thirdly use boundaries rather than reactivity to deal with any remaining habit behaviors your spouse has which are damaging your relationship.

If you need help with any of these three steps, you may wish to start with my book on overcoming neediness. If that is not sufficient or your relationship is already badly damaged, then I recommend working in coaching right away to re-create a better relationship for you and your spouse.

One more thing. Don’t send your spouse to counseling to get fixed.

None of these steps requires couples work or getting our spouse to work with you. It is your behavior that is maintaining your spouse’s bad habits. Sending your spouse to counseling or coaching will not change your spouse because your spouse’s counselor or coach won’t be able to help you to use good boundaries or to stop rewarding your spouse. That’s why if you are having problems with your spouse, you need to be the one to learn how to not make your spouse’s behavior work for him or her anymore. And don’t forget to do steps one and two before step three. The right steps, in the right order is your key to relationship success and success with everything else, too!

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