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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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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