Relationship Minute: Who’s to blame

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When something goes wrong, most of us naturally respond by looking for someone to blame.

It always has to be someone’s fault, right? Not necessarily.

Trying to assign blame just results in a back-and-forth that leaves everyone feeling frazzled, defensive, and dissatisfied. And sometimes no one is to blame. It could have been a misunderstanding—a common result of two people interacting.

For example, let’s say you and your partner started watching a new show together. Your partner was on their phone the whole time, so later, you finish the show on your own.

The next day, your partner notices and says, “Hey! I wanted to finish that together!”

You have two options.

One is to agree that someone is to blame here and make sure it isn’t you.

“You were on your phone the whole time so I figured you wouldn’t care.”

The other option is to accept that there was a misunderstanding.

“Oops. I can see why you’re upset. I would feel the same way. Let’s find a new show we’re both excited to watch.”

No one is to blame here, so it doesn’t have to turn into a stressful conflict.

How would your next interaction go if you went into it believing that blame didn’t need to be assigned?

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The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 13 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.