When something goes wrong, horribly wrong, our first instinct is to blame.
We experienced this first hand last year during our family trip to Mexico (ah, vacations...remember those?). On our drive from the airport to the hotel, we were pulled over by the Mexican police for 45 minutes.
Then, our hotel room ended up sharing a wall with the all-night New Year’s Eve dance party, which meant that we (and our 8-year-old) slept, not at all. And then after moving to a new resort, we experienced two nights of a raccoon invasion. Yes, raccoons crawled in through the windows of our room, opening the refrigerator and scattering our food everywhere.
Needless to say, things didn’t go the way we had planned. And when this happened, we could both feel the urge to blame.
Nate should’ve been more careful when researching these resorts, thought Kaley.
Kaley should have been more proactive about switching our room so we didn’t have to witness an all night EDM dance party, thought Nate.
Luckily, we were able to watch these thoughts arise, laugh at them, and avoid blaming the other person.
It hasn’t always been that way. We’ve had plenty of arguments that devolve into the blame game.
But here's the thing. As you've probably experienced first hand, adding blame to these already chaotic moments is like dumping gasoline on a burning fire. It just makes everything worse.
So how can we avoid blaming our partner when things go awry?
Imagine your partner spills a full glass of red wine on your lap during dinner. Or maybe they accidentally ram a shopping cart into the side of the car at the store. Or maybe they forget to check on the chicken in the oven and burn it to a crisp.
Blame happens when we take this personally, when we view these 'bad things' as an intentional attack levied by our partner against us. So it’s worth remembering when things go wrong, that it's usually not personal. It’s just the unwieldy and crazy flow of life, where things rarely go according to plan.
But what about those times when your partner really does screw up? What about when your partner forgets to pick up your child at school, leaving your poor kid standing in the rain for over 30 minutes?
In these situations, the problem isn’t a pure accident. Your partner made a mistake that could have been avoided.
When this happens, it's almost impossible not to blame your partner. But we think there’s a better alternative. It’s the shift from blame to accountability.
Here's what it looks like. Instead of saying to your partner, “it’s your fault - what were you thinking?” use this opportunity to offer your partner some accountability. It sounds more like this, “when you forgot to pick up our daughter, I felt scared, like I can’t trust you. My request is that you set an alarm next time so you don’t forget to pick her up.”
We’ve talked about this practice in earlier newsletters. This is an advanced version of the practice of revealing your raw emotional experience and then making a clean request.