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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Loving Yourself Through Addiction and Relapse: Be Patient with the Process

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~Nelson Mandela

It’s a cold winter day. As I plunge my hand down into the wax paper bag, I fully expect to find another bite or two. But, alas, there are only crumbs.

A distinct wave of sadness shoots through my heart. The chocolate scone is gone. And I don’t even remember eating it.

It is in this moment that I wake up. I quickly shake my head from side to side, as if rousing myself from a long night of troubled dreams.

What have I just done? What about the vow I’ve made to myself, again and again?

For years I have known that the best thing for my body’s healing process is to eat fresh, whole, organic foods (lots of leafy greens, fruits, and nuts!) and to avoid ingredients that overstimulate my endocrine and nervous systems, such as sugar and wheat flour.

And yet, today, here I am again. Eating some stupid, cheap scone I picked up on impulse at the local bakery. Full of who-knows-what ingredients.

Here I am again. Ignoring my own wisdom. Falling back into the food addiction that has plagued me since childhood.

Today I have lost control.

I pull my car over into a parking lot. (Yes, I have been mindlessly scarfing that darned scone while driving!) I take a deep breath.

Now is definitely the time for some self-love.

Addiction is a Dirty Band-Aid 

Whether you struggle with a food addiction like I do or you deal with drug or alcohol addiction, every addiction is the same. An addiction is a loss of control over one’s behavior.

Our addictive behaviors don’t just randomly happen for no reason. They are a symptom of a deeper issue.

Why do we get addicted?

That scone or that cocktail or that cigarette brings about a temporary cessation of suffering. They block sadness, tension, fear, pain, boredom, and anger. They numb any and all negative emotions.

To put it simply, an addiction is a coping mechanism. It allows us to trudge onward in life, but without really looking toward the deeper issues.

An addiction may be a short-lived, temporary cure for the pain—but, as we all know, it’s not a long-term solution.

Running to our addiction is like slapping a Band-Aid on the wound—a Band-Aid that is dirty. Over time, the wound gets infected with the dirt and grime, and it worsens rather than heals.

The Addiction is Not the Problem

Here’s the thing about addiction, dear friends: The addiction is not really the problem. The addiction is the glaring symptom.

If we can look deeper than the symptom and see the situation from a holistic point of view, then we may begin to bring about a resolution to much of the suffering in our lives.

So, what is the deeper issue? What lies at the root of addiction?

Ultimately, all addiction—no matter the type or the severity—stems from a lack of connection. When we feel disconnected from other people, from our society, from our deepest hopes and dreams, and from a sense of love, then this disconnection brings about powerful emotions. These emotions hurt, and so we run to the seeming solace of the addiction.

The addiction may seem, on the surface, as if it’s the problem, but actually it’s not. The addiction is, in reality, a helpful pointer, showing us that there’s some internal healing we need to do.

The wonderful thing about addiction is that it is a powerful red STOP sign. It screams loudly: “Look! There’s a problem!”

Addictions help us get in touch with our inner self. Just like a cough helps us connect with the needs of our lungs (do I need fresh air? do I need more exercise? do I need to take certain herbs?), an addiction helps us get in touch with the needs of our heart.

Our heart is the seat of all emotion. Our heart is where feelings arise, are felt, and then released.

When we feel a lack of connection and love, we do not feel safe. We do not feel safe enough to explore the many emotions that can arise as a human being in our daily lives.

When we feel disconnected, negative emotions can feel overwhelming and scary. This is particularly true for those with abuse or trauma in their life history.

The addictive behavior is a misguided attempt to self-soothe. We believe that if we eat that scone or we drink that beer, then those scary emotions will stop and we will somehow be safe, somehow feel connected again.

But we all know that doesn’t work. What ends up happening is that, once the temporary high wears off, we are left feeling crappier than ever.

The addiction is not the problem. The problem, rather, is the false perception that there is no love, no connection.

Rising from Bottom

The cliché of the “rock bottom” is a cliché because it’s true. Most addicts eventually experience it.

Rock bottom looks different for everyone. It will have varying levels of intensity and consequences.

For some, the bottom is drastic: a suicide attempt, an illness, or a hospitalization. For some, it will simply be a very sad day when they realize that the time has come to change.

This time of rock bottom is the moment when we begin to wake up. It’s the time when the healing can truly begin.

For me, my rock bottom with food addiction came when my body had disintegrated nearly to the point of death.

I was on my perhaps my tenth round of antibiotics that year and having a severe allergic reaction to the medication. Delusional with a high fever, unable to lift myself from bed and barely able to call for help, I realized I probably would not live much longer if I did not change just about everything in my life. Shortly after, I began to explore the world of alternative medicine and began to clean up my diet.

We can think of this rock bottom—this intense realization that things need to shift—as the bottom of a spiral. This spiral begins at ground zero, and it moves upward through time.

As the days, weeks, and months pass, and we dedicate ourselves to a new way of being, we will have various challenges that arise. We will learn and grow and allow our emotions to be felt, rather than running from them. We will heal old wounds from childhood that have been lurking for many years.

Over time, with patience, we will be slowly shifting our perspective. We will become a new and better version. We will be moving from contracted perceptions of disconnection, lack, and fear, into expanded perspectives of connection, abundance, and love.

Through the adoption of various healing practices such as meditation, support groups, therapy, prayer, Reiki, or exercise, we come into greater harmony within ourselves. We learn to love ourselves.

Relapses and the Spiral of Evolution

In my struggle with addiction (not just with food, but with many other substances over the years), I have realized I am grateful to addiction. Addiction has played a very powerful role in my spiritual evolution.

Addiction is a powerful point of change. It is a journey inward. It the journey of becoming aware and conscious.

As we humans make this journey, and break the cycles of addiction, it’s so important to remember that change is not linear and it’s often not easy. Relapses happen.

The spiral analogy can be helpful. If we imagine that we are travelling upwards in consciousness, to greater and greater levels of joy, power, and self-awareness, then we can avoid traps of self-blame when we do occasionally relapse.

That day when I woke up to find scone crumbs on my lap was a challenging day indeed. I’d just had a disagreement with my roommate and was struggling with money issues. When I stopped at the bakery that day, intent on buying some tea, those scones whispered sweet love songs to me and I could not find the willpower to resist.

In that relapse, I temporarily lost sight of my own truth: That I want to avoid sugar and wheat flour in order to heal my body.

In that relapse, I was returning to the particular side of the spiral that was so known and comfortable: running to unhealthy food for comfort.

And yet, even though I had returned to that old familiar side of the spiral, I actually experienced this relapse from a greater height! In other words, in this relapse, I was able to more quickly move past it and get back to my own power.

It took just a few minutes and I forgave myself and moved into self-acceptance. I did not beat myself up.

In that cold car on that cold winter day, I placed my hands on my heart, and whispered some words of love and reassurance to myself. In the past, in the beginning of my healing journey with food, I might have added a cookie or a brownie on top of the scone, as a way to escape the terrible emotions of self-judgment and guilt. But—this time I didn’t! 

Love Yourself and Heal 

A relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens.

If you or someone you love has been healing a pattern of addiction, please know that patience is key.

The spiral of evolution will bring you situations that will test your courage and self-awareness. Sometimes you will succumb. And that’s okay!

If you wake up and suddenly find yourself acting in a way that you know is not your highest good, then congratulate yourself for waking up. Take stock of your long-term changes and pat yourself on the back for coming this far.

Notice how you can more quickly bounce back from the relapse, with greater levels of patience and self-love. Notice how awesome you are!

Ultimately, the journey of addiction recovery is a journey of healing. And it’s a journey all humans go through, as we refine to greater and greater levels what it means to love and care for ourselves.

About Anya Light

Anya Light, PhD, is the author of Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness. Her soul mission is to inspire people to greater and greater levels of self-love. Anya offers intuitive life coaching sessions at AnyaLight.com.

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