How to Get Past Blame and Shame and Strengthen Your Relationship

I used to think that if I told my wife exactly what’s wrong with her, her response would be, “Yes, I see it now! Thank you for showing me the errors of my ways.”

To my surprise, that never happened. Finally, I saw that I was going about things the wrong way. Complaining, blaming, and shaming were simply not an effective strategy for creating more love and harmony with my wife. Duh! Once I realized this, I went in search of what really did create more love and harmony. Fortunately, several great strategies—backed by actual research—helped show me what could work.

So why do so many couples continue to use the “blame and shame game” to try to get their mate to change? Because they don’t know of another alternative. In this culture, that’s what we’ve learned. Fortunately, there are three simple methods that can help you overcome blame and shame and get back to the love and connection you really desire.

Positive Intention

One way I learned to let go of blame and shame was to tune into my wife’s “positive intention.”

A positive intention is the ultimate positive reason your partner is pursuing a certain behavior.

For example, if your partner complains a lot, you probably don’t like that behavior. However, you can tune into the positive intention motivating it. The positive reason someone complains may be a desire for more comfort or pleasure, or to feel better. Those are all fine things to want. The problem is that your partner’s strategy for obtaining them may be counterproductive in the long term.

Trying to figure out what your partner ultimately wants from his or her “irritating” actions can be a major step in establishing empathy. As I started to understand my wife’s positive intention for behavior that irritated me, I was better able to respond with love and kindness.

Try it for yourself right now. Think of a behavior your partner does that you don’t like. Stop reading for a moment and really do this. Now ask yourself: “What could the positive intention be behind that behavior?”

If you can imagine your partner’s positive intention, it will help you let go of judgment and allow you to be more accepting. Such acceptance is often the first step in helping your partner find a more effective method for achieving what he or she really wants.

Knowing What You Really Want

Knowing your partner’s positive intention is a great way to let go of blame and shame, but so is knowing your own positive intention. What are you really after by trying to blame, shame, or change your partner? In other words, if your partner changed in all the ways you wanted them to, what would you have that you don’t have now?

Usually, we are ultimately trying to experience a different feeling with our lover, such as more love, safety, trust, intimacy, or belonging. Unfortunately, blaming and shaming one’s partner never leads to the feelings we really want. Therefore, it’s a good idea to come up with a new strategy for getting what you really want.

Ask yourself, “What is a new way I can interact with my partner that is likely to lead to the feelings I truly desire?” Try to answer this question as specifically as you can.

When I asked myself this question, the answers were painfully obvious. The simple act of refraining from blaming and shaming my wife was an obvious good start. Then as I thought about it more, I realized that if I wanted safety, love, and acceptance, that’s what I had to give to my wife.

Initially, as I tried to do this, I saw how often I failed at it. Yet, seeing my failures were part of the process of getting it right. Over a few short months, I was amazed at how much it seemed that my wife had changed—she seemed much more loving. When I mentioned this to her, she responded, “I thought it was you that had changed. I’m just reacting to how you’re different.” What goes around comes around…

Asking yourself, “How can I interact with my partner in a way that will lead to the feelings I desire?” is a good start. Of course, there is no single right answer to that question, yet if you ponder it for a bit, some answers will likely emerge.

For example, you might realize that if you do small acts of kindness for your partner, or frequently say what you appreciate about him or her, it could lead to more intimacy, safety, or trust.

Just the simple act of no longer blaming and shaming your partner is likely to lead to a positive change in the relationship. Yet, there are many other ways to create the connection you desire—as long as you focus on what you ultimately want and are willing to let go of old, unproductive habits.

Just Like Me

A final approach to overcoming the blame and shame game is to be able to quickly let go of the judgments we have about our partner.

When we judge our partners, we express a belief that they shouldn’t be the way they are. I confess that sometimes I get judgmental about my wife’s behavior. Occasionally, I see that her strategy for satisfying her desires is ineffective, or even opposed to her ultimate goal. Then, I fall into a feeling of self-righteousness and superiority.

At such times, I say three magical words to put a quick halt to my judgements. Those three magical words are: “Just like me.”

The words “just like me” are a very effective antidote to the blame and shame game. After all, I often behave in ways that don’t lead to the intimacy I desire, so when I see this behavior in others, it invokes a feeling of compassion.

We’re all human, and we all let our past conditioning influence our actions in detrimental ways from time to time. When you see something you don’t like in your mate and you want to let go of your judgments quickly, try thinking the words “just like me,” and notice how it makes you feel. For me, it often brings up a feeling of compassion—or, at the very least, it helps me to let go of my judgments quickly.

Blaming and shaming are like a cancer in a relationship. If they are allowed to live and spread, the entire relationship can slowly wither away and die. By focusing on the three ideas presented here, a whole new way of dealing with the inevitable frustrations in a partnership can be born.

Yet, it takes practice. Due to no fault of our own, we’ve been taught to blame and shame each other despite the fact that such behaviors don’t get us what we want. In this culture, that’s what we’ve learned. Fortunately, there are three simple methods that can help couples overcome blame and shame and get back to the love and connection they really desire.

Once you learn the key ways to get past blame and shame, your partner will likely reward you with a lot more love and a lot less conflict.

**Adapted excerpt from More Love, Less Conflict, reprinted with permission from Conari Press, Copyright © 2018 by Jonathan Robinson

About Jonathan Robinson

Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, the author of More Love, Less Conflict, and has been a frequent guest on Oprah. You can download free methods and info at MoreLoveLessConflict.com.

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The Little Things in Life Are the Ones That Matter Most

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” ~Muhammad Ali

I followed a little boy in Walmart today. He didn’t look like my son and yet I trailed him and his mother all over the store. I curled my fingers around the shopping cart so I wouldn’t be tempted to reach out and touch him.

He didn’t walk with Brendan’s bounce or jerk his head back, trying to slide his glasses back onto his nose. He didn’t have his sarcastic smile or those tiny freckles scattered across his cheeks.

But he had the same cowlick sprouting from the back of his head. I wheeled my cart around and followed this little boy who looked nothing like my son. I itched to brush this boy’s hair, just like I did before Brendan grew too old and wiggled away.

I used to smooth his spikes down and then laugh when they sprang back up, no matter how much gel I used. By the time he became a teenager, he gave up trying to tame them and left it messy and wild.

And now, I’ll never get a chance to touch his hair again. My son died in an accident a week before his first day of high school.

I followed this little boy through the aisles, zigzagging across the store. He spent a long time debating which Lego set to buy. I knew the perfect one, the Star Wars battleship, but I said nothing.

A few minutes later, he and his mother walked out of the store while I stood there, that hollow feeling gnawing me from the inside. I’d learned to steel myself when I saw Brendan’s friends at the high school or celebrated his cousin’s sixteenth birthday, but I didn’t expect something so small as a wisp of hair to make me stumble.

That boy’s hair was my pebble.

You’re never sure what tiny thing will make you stumble. A few months after Brendan died, my husband went to a funeral. It was for his friend’s grandmother, a sad passing, but not tragic like losing a fifteen year old son.

We both feared it would be too much for him. He prepared himself to see the coffin, to hear the sobs, to smell the roses and carnations in the room.

“None of that bothered me,” he told me later. “I was fine. But then I went into the bathroom.”

He stopped and shook his head. “I dried my hands on the air dryer and all I could see was that first time Brendan used one of them. I think he was four and he loved it. Again, he said, over and over. He kept washing his hands just so he could dry them again.”

It wasn’t the tears of the mourners or the wooden casket covered in flowers that made him break down. It was the memory of Brendan laughing while watching the skin on his hand bubble and dance. Michael had steeled himself against the mountain, but it was the pebble that brought him down.

A tiny pebble will forever make us stumble.

And yet, it’s that same pebble that fills us with the sound of Brendan’s laughter. There will be days when I follow a little boy and his hair, limping in pain. But there will also be days when I’ll smile, my fingers warm with the memory of smoothing down Brendan’s wild and messy hair.

Life is made up of these moments. Joy and heartache are woven into a tapestry of love. There are day when I want to pull on the threads of pain, but I know I risk unraveling it all.

After Brendan’s accident, icy shock seeped inside me and froze my memories. I couldn’t remember his favorite foods or the nickname he called our dog. I couldn’t even say what we’d had for dinner on our last night together.

But my daughter Lizzie remembered the special nachos he’d made after dinner that night. “He called them victory nachos,” she said and I smiled, picturing him slicing salami into perfect strips. He’d sprinkled them on top and dove into the pile, eating only one chip at a time.

And Zack remembered the way he and his brother would lie on their backs on the trampoline, waiting until the sky grew dark. They’d search for the first star to twinkle in the sky and then close their eyes and wish that pigs could fly.

We shared our memories in a notebook we left on the kitchen counter. The pages filled up, but not with big highlights like our vacation to Disney World. We wrote about the ordinary moments that are so easy to take for granted.

Like the marathon Monopoly games in our basement and how Brendan always tried to get Park Avenue, even if he bankrupted himself. And the hours Brendan and Michael spent sitting by the firepit they’d built out of bricks. Or the coupon he made me when he was fourteen, inviting me on a bookstore date.

I still have the slip of paper with his messy words scrawled on it, but what I cherish more is the memory of him hovering by my side, his eyes watching mine as I read his invitation. He’d seen me cry that morning and was desperate to make me smile again.

This is how love endures. We gather tiny moments and string them together, like beads in a never-ending necklace. And yet, it took the loss of my son to make me realize the little things in life are the ones that matter the most.

Our family life was a whirlwind of track meets and baseball practice and business meetings. In the chaos, it was far too easy to let those moments slip away. We carved out time for big vacations, but forgot to treasure the tickle fights late at night.

Don’t wait for a loss to make you realize what you’re missing right now. Push away the distractions that will always be there and hold onto your loved ones and the everyday memories you make together.

I still keep a notebook on my counter. I write down the piano song Zack played on my birthday or the way my daughter giggles when I touch her knee.

And I pick up pebbles on my walks. I slip them into my pocket, its gentle weight a reminder to cherish the smallest moments in life.

About Linda Broder

Linda Broder is a writer and musician living in Northern New Jersey. She is currently working on a memoir about faith, mystery and the healing magic of playing the harp. Her blog is at LindaBroder.com.

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Whatever Is Taken for Granted Will Eventually Be Taken Away

“They say ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ The truth is, you knew exactly what you had. You just didn’t think that you were going to lose it.” ~Unknown

She was a mother of eight children. She lived with her family in a small village in the countryside.

Living in a poor family, with eight mouths to feed, she worked every possible job from dawn till dusk, from working in her family’s own rice field to accepting gigs from anyone who’d hire her.

Many people told her not to put her children in school so she could have some help with work. But she insisted on letting her children be educated so that they could have a shot to live a better life than hers. It meant working ten times extra, but she did it anyway.

She lived more strictly than a monk. She didn’t eat enough, because the less she ate, the more her children could eat.

Fast forward nearly forty years later, she suffered from heart disease, blood pressure problem, and many serious illnesses. According to the doctor, the main reason was that she’d neglected herself for so long.

In the last couple months of her life, she couldn’t walk or talk. She became paralyzed and she forgot her children and grandchildren. Later she died in the arms of her family.

That was the life story of my grandmother, the woman who sacrificed her entire life to take care of other people and expected nothing in return. And everyone took her for granted.

It’s not because we didn’t love her. But we were just too busy with our lives. And most importantly, our society raised us not to express our love and feelings to others, because it was considered a sign of weakness.

I remember just a couple hours before she died, we were all expecting it and we gathered together to be with her.

My mom said, “Grandma is so weak.” I hugged her.

It was the first time I saw her cry.

A couple years later, my aunt told me she never hugged my grandma and told her how much she loved her. She didn’t know better at that time. She does now, but she’ll never have that chance again.

They took her for granted. And now she’s gone.

My grandma’s love and sacrifices seem to repeat themselves—with my mom.

A mother of four children, she found herself in a familiar situation.

She raised her four children herself while her husband was away to work for many years. She never had good food because she tried to save money to provide for her family.

And honestly, I also took her for granted.

She was always there for me when I needed her. She never left me when I got sick. She fixed my clothes and bought me some pretty shoes when I asked for them, even though money was tight. She provided me with everything I’ve ever needed. And magically, she still managed to do the same for my siblings.

She was a superwoman to me.

It was not uncommon for her to do all the household chores while we just sat around, studying, chatting, or playing.

I knew she worked hard, but I also thought that’s how all moms were. I never remembered to say “thank you” to her. She plays a huge part in my life, and for a long time I just didn’t realize it. Until she was diagnosed with cancer.

My world collapsed. Life was so brutal.

When she was in the chemo, the house was a mess. No one cared to clean, cook, or talk. My family and I only talked about Mom, who was becoming weaker by the day.

I remember when she finally came home after the first chemo session, we kept asking her what food she could eat and how she felt. That was the first time she received so much attention.

I also remember she got up, ran outside the room, stood in the dark, and cried. She cried not because she was scared of death, but because she was scared that no one would take care of her children.

I had taken her for granted, but I still had a chance. Since then, I learned to take care of her as well as she took care of me.

Even after my mom was cured, the fear of losing her still scared me to death. But it also makes me realize that we all tend to take people around us for granted, especially the people who are closest to us. We only remember to cherish them when we are about to lose or after we lost them.

I now make it a goal to never take anyone for granted. I make sure I appreciate everyone around me. If you think you might also be guilty of taking people for granted…

Remind yourself that nothing is permanent.

Nothing you have today will last forever. Not your job, your house, or your car. Not the people who are closest to you. Not even the people who vowed to never leave your side.

Take a moment and accept the fact that life is short and you don’t have a lot of time to be with your loved ones. Someday all those people will no longer be around you, and you can’t possibly know when. Cherish them while you can.

Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.

No one is responsible for you and your life. No one is obligated to show you affection and kindness. Even if they are the people you love, it doesn’t mean they must love you back. They don’t have to do anything for you, even the smallest things.

So when they do, recognize their efforts and thank them for everything they do for you. Everyone appreciates knowing they’re appreciated.

Express your love with little gestures.

Born in a third world country, I wasn’t raised to express my feelings for other people. Many times I struggled to tell my mom how much I love her. I thought she knew because she is my mom. But it doesn’t mean she would not feel happier if I chose to share how much I cared.

It was strange at first, but now I call her every day and kiss her over the phone camera. I send her random text to tell her I love her and arrange flowers to be delivered to her house.

Even if you’re busy, put in the effort to show how much you care. It doesn’t have to be anything big. As Robert Brault said, the little things are often the big things.

Stay in the moment.

Sometimes we are so busy with our work, our hobbies, and our relationship problems that we don’t focus on the people who are right in front of us.

But if you don’t, when you look back on those moments, you will regret not being in the moment and enjoying time with your loved ones.

Make a commitment to yourself today: Stop worrying about things you have no control over. And if you can’t stop worrying altogether, at least vow to put your worries aside for a while every day so you can be there for your loved ones, both physically and spiritually.

It is easy to get used to all the sweet and kind gestures people do for you. But don’t take them for granted.

Go ahead. Call your mom, dad, or someone else you love. Tell them how much you love them and thank them for everything they do.

Send a text to your significant other, if you have one. Thank them for cooking a big breakfast for you, or even just for listening.

Buy a bouquet of flowers and send it to your spouse or friend, along with a note to tell them how much you appreciate they little things they do for you every day.

“Smile big. Laugh often. Never take this life for granted.” ~Unknown

About Mai Pham

Mai Pham believes we can create our own happiness. She helps overwhelmed and frustrated people to ditch their stress and enjoy their lives again. Grab her free actionable cheatsheet: 5 Simple Tips to Release Stress and Bring You Calm in Under 5 Minutes and join her free 7 Joyful Days Challenge email course.

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Easing a Broken Heart: 5 Ways to Reframe Rejection

“When the wrong people leave your life, the right things start to happen.” ~Zig Ziglar

The end of a relationship triggers many grief emotions, but when a couple breaks up because one person decides that it’s over, there is a very distinct pain: the sting of rejection. It doesn’t matter whether things had been difficult for some time or if the split came out of the blue; either way, rejection feels cruel.

At the end of my marriage eight years ago, I had no idea that the breakup was coming. On top of the shock that the relationship was suddenly over, I carried the intense and overwhelming feeling of rejection; I was no longer valued, wanted, or needed.

Rejection can trigger feelings of shame, low self-esteem. and diminished confidence as well as helplessness and victimization. If you are left for another person (which was my experience) the intensity of rejection increases further. I experienced anger and resentment about betrayal; this makes healing feel much harder than in those cases where a decision to split is mutual.

When I began move through my initial grief, I found that the biggest shift in moving forward came through changing how I viewed rejection. I realized that by identifying with the feeling of rejection I was telling myself that something was wrong with me; that the marriage was over because I hadn’t come up to scratch and, therefore, needed to be let go.

Of course, this was not true but in the mind of the injured party, it was natural to feel this way. By shifting my perspective, I eventually began to realize that my husband’s decision to leave was not a reflection on me.

It is always hugely important to acknowledge and process feelings of grief; reframing is not about burying your emotions. However, as I’ve learned from my experience, rather than simply waiting for time to be your healer, you can move through pain far sooner and more effectively by viewing your situation in a different way.

Here are five ways I helped myself reframe the rejection.

1. It’s not necessarily about you.

It’s almost impossible not to take rejection personally. My ex-husband said he left because he wasn’t getting what he needed from our relationship; he needed to follow his “truth,” which no longer included me. His narrative of the breakup became about my inability to be what he needed.

This is where shame really kicks in. Rejection tells you that you weren’t enough to keep your partner from leaving and, in some cases, you’ve been replaced with someone who can make them happy.

But what if it’s not all you? As personal and hurtful as the rejection feels, sometimes it happens because the other person is unable to give enough or be enough of what the relationship needs. When someone is unable to love you fully, they will either reject you, or stay in the relationship and treat you badly or indifferently enough until you decide to end it.

We are all human and it’s very rare that one person is flawless within a relationship. I felt far less rejected when I realized that my ex-husband had his own considerable struggles and issues that led him to choose to leave; it wasn’t all about me.

2. Relationships are assignments.

There is a spiritual school of thought that views the people in our lives as lessons. The theory goes that we meet no one by accident; we are all in relationship to further our growth and deepen our connection to ourselves and the universe/each other. Partnerships with a significant other are huge vehicles for growth, but when the learning has gone as far as it can go with one person, it must end.

Sometimes people leave our lives naturally and comfortably, other times we face the pain of rejection. The lesson is not always obvious at first, especially through the pain of grief, but what is initially perceived as rejection can also be viewed as a release from a completed assignment and an opportunity to learn.

Consider that you still have much more to achieve with your life, and maybe your partner was not the person to show you the way. Perhaps being released from your relationship will allow you to find what you really need to become the person you are meant to be.

This reframe can be wonderfully comforting if you choose to find love again in the future. If you learn your difficult lessons from the old relationship, you will grow, and the person you share the next stage of your path with will bring more fulfilment and easier challenges.

3. Change the ending.

When someone chooses to leave you, they not only decide that the relationship is over, they also determine “the story” of why it ended. So, why did my marriage end? The event that ultimately broke us apart was his leaving to be with someone else. However, on another level, there was more to it than that.

I had changed within the marriage; I had been working through a deep personal issue a year or so previously, and had come out of the other side stronger, more content with life, and ready for a happier future with our family. I had grown, but my husband had not changed with me.

When I became aware of this, I started to view the ending as less about rejection and more about an incompatibility between who we both were. It was an empowering reframe because it allowed me to feel far less victimized. The way he ended the marriage was not excusable, but it held far less of an emotional grip over me.

Think about ways that you might have been rejected, not for anything you did “wrong,” but for something that altered the nature of the relationship.

  • Did you refuse to have your boundaries crossed or to put up with certain behavior?
  • Have you changed for the better in a way that your ex-partner could not handle?
  • Were you simply yourself and refused to change to please them?

If you can view the ending in a way that empowers you, even a little bit, it can really ease your pain.

4. Remember you are still whole.

The feeling of rejection is greatly fuelled by the beautiful, romantic idea that two people “complete” each other. The conclusion is quite demoralizing; are we are no longer complete because someone doesn’t want us? What is our role in life now that we are not required to complete the other person?

Losing a partner is painful and the grief of loss is real, but the pain is heightened and prolonged unnecessarily when we believe that we have been rejected by “the other half of ourselves.” It can feel like life has no purpose or meaning anymore. When I began to accept that I was still whole and valuable, it took away the feeling of despair that I was somehow diminished and “less than” because my husband had decided to walk away.

5. Focus on gratitude.

I love using gratitude as a tool for helping to shift into a more positive state of mind. Admittedly, in the early days of grieving, it’s not easy to feel grateful for anything at all, so I found it easier to start with making a list each day of the small blessings in my life—the day-to-day things we usually take for granted. I really recommend this as a practice.

As your mindset starts to shift, you will come to realize that there are genuine reasons to be grateful that you were rejected. Mine included:

  • Finding out about my husband’s affair and my divorce. Who knows how long I could have remained unaware, believing my marriage was something it wasn’t?
  • The chance to learn to value myself more highly and to become aware of how resilient I am.
  • The new life opportunities which came my way once I began to see the loss as an opportunity to have a better life; I know for certain that I would not have the career, and sense of purpose which I have now, without that crisis in my life.
  • The chance to understand myself more fully and begin a new healthier and happier relationship.

A heart broken by rejection can be a perfect example of a blessing in disguise. The best way to move forward is to allow yourself to feel the pain, then go on to reframe the loss as an opportunity. Trust that the right things will start to come!

About Marissa Walter

Marissa Walter is a counselor and the author of Break Up and Shine, which inspires those struggling emotionally with breakup and divorce to heal and see opportunity from the loss. Check out her free guide 10 Ways To Change How You Feel About Your Break-Up. You also can follow Break Up and Shine on Facebook and Twitter.

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