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4 Steps to Let Go of Blame in Your Relationship

Couple

“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” ~Dr. Robert Anthony

After living alone for five years, I moved in with my girlfriend just eight months ago. I knew that I would have to make some adjustments, but I had no idea what they might be.

I expected most of the changes to be around the dynamics of our relationship and spending too much time together. I didn’t foresee any personal growth coming out of it.

But that’s exactly what happened. I grew, and I evolved.

What Sparks a Fight

For both me and my girlfriend, cleaning our apartment is a big issue.

Neither one of us wants to do it. And even when we do clean, we want credit for it. Or at least I do.

I remember one time I had just finished cleaning our bathroom, and I felt like I had made a significant contribution to our apartment. My girlfriend—let’s just call her Mary—thanked me, but I felt like she wasn’t contributing as much to our apartment.

I accused her.

Mary hadn’t cleaned anything in a week, and I didn’t want to do all the cleaning by myself. Now it was her turn.  And she should know about it.

She didn’t take it so well.

She said that she had cleaned the bathroom the last two times, in addition to the kitchen and parts of the bedroom. I told her that I had cooked the last few meals, and that she’s the one who keeps dirtying the bathroom and bedroom anyway. Why should I clean her mess?

Things Get Ugly

Before I knew it, we had escalated into a full-blown fight as we got more and more upset at each other. We were blaming each other back and forth for what the other person had or hadn’t done.

We were playing the “blame game.”

And this wasn’t the first time either.

We had played the blame game many times before, and every time we did, it would damage our relationship in a new way. Sometimes there would still be ripple effects days later.

We would get mad at each other. We would accuse each other. We would look for reasons why one of us was right and the other was wrong.

It was a downward spiral.

Blame Awareness and The Gift of Pain

Usually before I can make any significant change in my life, I need to have a high level of awareness about it. I can’t change without first knowing what change I need to make. And usually, the big alarm that tells me when something isn’t working is this:

I feel pain.

It can be sadness, anger, unhappiness—basically, any emotion that feels bad is my warning sign that something’s wrong. And this time, it was my girlfriend and I being intensely angry at each other.

Pain is a gift.

Why?

Pain is a gift because it tells us that something is not right, that something isn’t working and needs to be changed. Without feeling this pain, we might never know that we need to change.

This painful experience is what brought our blame game to my awareness.

I was now empowered to change.

Taking 100% Responsibility

I read somewhere that most successful people take 100% responsibility for their lives.

Hmm.

I thought I’d try an experiment.

What if I were to take 100% responsibility for everything in our apartment, in our relationship, in our lives?

Even though a relationship is really a 50-50 partnership, I figured I’d bite the bullet and take all the blame and responsibility—for everything—and just see what happens. (Note: If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, and your partner regularly mistreats or takes advantage of you, I would not recommend this.)

I deliberately became more aware of my tendency to blame. I was denying responsibility for things I could change.

Blame is a victim mindset, not an empowered one.

I would catch myself after I had just blamed Mary. I would catch myself while I was accusing her, or right before I was about to.

I would catch myself merely thinking the thought—that it’s her fault for such-and-such. And right before I was about to blame her for something, I’d just sit in awareness of it, as if I were a Buddhist monk.

Letting go of the blame, I would instead take full responsibility for it.

Talking About It

Accusing her and blaming her only made our relationship worse. So I was taking 100% responsibility for our relationship, and I wasn’t going to blame her for anything. Even if I felt certain it really was her fault.

At first, I didn’t tell Mary what I was doing.

Eventually, though, I told her everything. We had been blaming each other a lot, and it was making our relationship not so good, and I was making an effort to stop. I was happy when she said that she would make an effort too.

She soon stopped blaming me.

Even when she hadn’t cleaned up the mess on our table, and it was clearly her mess and her “fault,” I took responsibility for it.

Sounds crazy. Sounds dis-empowering, right?

But maybe, I had created the circumstances to allow her to leave the mess. Maybe I hadn’t communicated clearly to her that I don’t like clutter on our table. Maybe I hadn’t done anything to encourage us to both clean up together, as a team.

Total responsibility.

In the end, I didn’t become a victim either. If Mary was going to take advantage of me, this strategy would have backfired and I’d be her scapegoat. But because we’re in a healthy relationship, she didn’t mistreat me.

Eliminating Blame in Your Relationship

You’ll notice from my experience with Mary that I took specific steps to eliminate blame in our relationship. Here are the steps you can take to do the same:

Pain

The first step is just to notice if it’s an issue in your relationship. Are you fighting, getting angry with each other, playing the blame game?

Awareness

Get super-aware of when you’re blaming or faulting or accusing, even if you’re doing it in your head. If you can catch yourself sooner, you can let it go and preempt sparking a fight.

Take Responsibility

This is the hardest part, because it’s easier to find fault in others than in ourselves. We want to be right. So just do an experiment, and see if you can take complete responsibility for your life, including your relationship. See what happens. Remember, this advice applies to anyone who’s in a healthy relationship. This doesn’t mean you need to take responsibility for someone else mistreating you.

Communicate

Tell your partner what’s been going on, how you feel about it, and the effort you’re going to make. (And if something’s really bothering you, communicate your feelings without blaming.) This will bond you together, and get you on the same team. Once you’re both making an effort, you’re well on your way.

Photo by Bjorn Soderqvist

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About Tom Casano

Tom Casano is the founder of LifeCoachSpotter.com. Get answers to common questions like "What is a life coach?" and "How do I find a life coach?" Learn about how a life coach can transform your life in just a few months.

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  • Jeff Urmston

    Thanks for the great post Tom! I totally agree on your point about awareness. Usually when a fight is starting to rage it’s a piranha-like feeding frenzy for your ego. With my wife my ego takes the bait and will make a snide comment or subtle blame when I want to “prove” that I’m right. Of course she follows suit and soon we’re in a full-blown fight. I’ve discovered that you have to watch your ego closely and make sure it’s not suckered into these fights. If you can be mindful and stop your ego before it gets started it’s amazing how peaceful things can become.

  • Janelle D

    Great post! Apartment cleaning can be a big issue. For us, it’s often the dishes…. They pile up quickly in an apartment with little counter space,

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Ah yes, the dishes!! :)

    Have you ever tried just spontaneously doing them out of generosity, not expecting or asking for anything in return? :) I don’t find it easy to do that kinda thing initially, but after I do it, the relationship changes… and magically improves!

    Have you tried it before Janelle?

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Hey Jeff!

    Yes I agree, it seems to be allll about ego (being right, etc). If there were no ego, there’d be nothing to fight about!

    How do you go about bringing more awareness to those situations? And how do you stop your ego before it gets started? :)

  • Sarah N

    This article couldn’t have been more appropriate for where I am at right now in our marriage. “We had played the blame game many times before, and every time we did, it would damage our relationship in a new way. Sometimes there would still be ripple effects days later.” This is where we are both at and neither of us what to be the vulnerable one and make the move. We are constantly collecting data to fight our fight, and neither of us what to show our cards (or our heart). I hope this article will be the launching pad for a change in my mindset.

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    I’m so happy that this article has been great timing for you Sarah! I hear that… I never like to take the blame… but when I start to take more “responsibility”… if my girlfriend sees it, and see the effort I’m making, she softens up, and things get better, and there’s more forgiveness.

    Letting things go is SO powerful, and I’ve found it the best way to move our relationship forward. I remember a recent fight we had a week ago… I was fuming for about 10 or 15 minutes… and then after all that contemplation… I just decided to let it go. And at that point everything got better again. But when I hold onto my grudge, that I’m “right”, that she is “wrong”… that can last for days and days! It’s crazy.

    What do you think Sarah?? :)

  • Sarah N

    There has been 2 very traumatic events that have occurred very close together in our marriage and we both are trying to protect ourselves but we also want to be heard at the same time. We both have to let go, we both need to be vulnerable but we are only in control of our personal self, so no matter what I need to let go.I need to take my armor off, put the weapons down and learn this is not about winning a trophy or a medal but saving our marriage, cause all we have right now are two very hurt people.

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    It makes total sense. When I am deeply hurt, my natural response is also to protect myself. I’ve found a lot of resistance to letting go, and a lot of comfort in “holding on”, even to things that are so detrimental. Ironic isn’t it, our natural reaction and what feels more comfortable, even though it only hurts us more…

    I wish you the best in saving your marriage. Friend me on facebook, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help! :)

  • Jeff Urmston

    I think developing a consistent mindfulness practice is key. Learning to be an observer of your ego, kind of like a nature watcher or impartial scientist, helps you to spot the cues for your behavioral patterns (like when you’re itching to make a mean comment to prove you’re right). The goal of this is not to resist these cues as much as choose to respond differently to them. Continued resistance drains your willpower unnecessarily and usually leads to ego snap-backs. If you simply watch and choose to respond differently to these cues, over time your ego becomes much quieter and your ego-isms will arise less and less frequently. It’s a process that takes time, but with patience and practice it’s easy for anyone to do.

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    I love what you’re saying Jeff! :)

    So does this mean meditating? Or is this being mindful in a specific sort of way? How would someone practice this, simply by being mindful of their ego and choosing to respond differently? :)

  • KS

    I want to bring this up to my boyfriend… I feel like this article was written about us (he had lived alone for several years and then moved in with me …and my daughter). We never have “healthy disagreements” because we are always way too busy blaming each other. It’s starts to really snowball and it feels like there is no way out of it anymore. I needed this today.. and I definitely want to give it a go. I am afraid that I will try but he won’t or we will go back to our old ways. Truth be told, I think we have both tried this approach and it does make us both soften up towards one another but then one or both of us will have a moment of “relapse” and it just snowballs all over again! Need to learn how to break out of that for sure though we have been through A LOT of stressful circumstances during the course of our relationship (deaths, accidents, health issues) and our focus has been all over the place as a result. I am not a grudge holder, I tend to get over things rather quickly but he is a grudge holder and I don’t handle that well which I know further aggravates the situation and causes more resentment and we just ping pong that resentment back and forth. He is a very cautious person when it comes to letting people in so I can only imagine what our fighting does.

    I just want better for us. And I know we can do better because I’ve seen it. I want the warm and affectionate relationship we once had and to stop misunderstanding one another through things like blame. Thank you again for this article! (And also, the comments from Sarah N.. I am sorry you are going through that but I can relate and I hope it all works out for you too!)

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Hey KS!

    Yes I find it really helpful to talk about it to my girlfriend, instead of just doing it on my own quietly. I think as Jeff has been saying, it’s REALLY important that we recognize it early, as it’s just starting to happen, so that we can be mindful of how we choose to respond to it. When I bring more awareness to the situation rather than my own defensiveness and reactions, it goes better.

    Yes, we’ve been relapsing too, but they’ve been shorter and less intense. Like anything it takes some practice and work. And I’m glad you mentioned your own aggravation towards his grudge… Anything reactive, egoic, or negative within us just makes the situation worse.

    I now like to say, okay, if you’re mad at me, you can stay mad at me as long as you like. But I forgive you. So if the other person wants to stay mad, they can… And usually it works because if it’s unjustified, they let it go, and if it really IS justified, then they’ll tell me why.

    What do YOU think? KS? Agree, disagree, how do you see it?

  • jdbt

    Thanks for this article, and especially for this note: (Note: If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, and your partner regularly mistreats or takes advantage of you, I would not recommend this.) I was in an abusive relationship with a person who blamed me for everything, and I enabled this by taking responsibility for everything. It’s very important that both partners are able to understand this concept and equally put in 100%.

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Your welcome jdbt and YES! Thanks for pointing that out! Actually, Lori, the editor of this website pointed that out initially, and it’s a VERY good point.

    This only works in healthy relationships, not in abusive or unfair relationships. It can be SUPER-dangerous to use in a relationship where you’re being mistreated or taken advantage of.

    What do you think?

  • jdbt

    Yes, I agree. Taking 100% responsibility also means trusting 100% that the other person will not take advantage of you. Once you get into an unhealthy cycle, then it’s very hard to break out of it. And amazingly (over a year after leaving my abusive husband) I still find myself feeling everything is my responsibility (fault), including the demise of the 15 year relationship and the abuse of my 3 kids. And he’s still blaming me for all that too, of course. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of help (2 good therapists) to show me how destructive this thinking has been for me.

    I do think that if you can trust your partner to also take 100% responsibility for things, it would make for a very healthy and happy relationship.

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Thanks for sharing, and very well said!

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I’m happy that you have the 2 good therapists to show you how destructive that kind of thinking can be.

    Thanks for having the courage to share!

    Friend me on Facebook :)

  • lv2terp

    This is such a common issue that most ppl don’t think to “fix”, and is the crux of many larger issues like resentment, disengagement, etc…thank you for sharing such wise advice about the changes needed within ourselves to avoid this toxic trap! :) I really like your clear example of taking responsibility of Mary’s mess…it is hard to think in that way, impressive! :) Thank you for sharing!!! :)

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Your welcome. I’m very happy you enjoyed it!

    Friend me on Facebook. :)

  • Heartshome

    Thank you Tom for the article and thank you to everyone who has commented … all of it fascinating and inspiring and thought provoking. I try to practice mindfulness and awareness, in spite of being in what most people would call an “unhealthy” relationship. I suppose I am working on NOT taking 100% blame for the things that go wrong, while at the same time trying to take 100% responsibility for my own ego and reactions. Does that sound like complete nonsense?! I guess it probably does – it’s a complicated relationship! :) Thanks again everyone for an interesting discussion.

  • Cat D T

    This was the part of the article I’m still trying to understand. In what way are you drawing the line where your partner IS taking advantage of your new mindset? Loved the article, btw!

  • Jeff Urmston

    I’m using mindfulness here as being aware of the functions of your ego. Learning the processes by which it rises and falls. Meditation is a great way to strengthen this mindfulness so that you learn to better recognize the wiles of your ego and also able to develop responses (directed, conscious action) versus reactions (the default process of your body and ego).

  • jay

    hi Tom, this is so so so true….I felt you have written my story :)….thank you so much for this article and making me see myself from a new perspective. I have it in me to say sorry and realise my blame game, but i still am unable to come out of a consistent pattern in my behaviour……thanks for your article, a true insight and a new path to walk on, for me and my partner…….keep writing such wonderful stuff…all the best..Godbless u and all the authors on Tiny buddha and the ones who created it…..:

  • Alexey Sunly

    Great message, Tom, and clearly well received by others :-) Well done!

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Great question Cat! I don’t have a well thought-out answer, but I imagine if you make it clear to your partner that you will be taking more responsibility to alleviate accusations in the relationship, and they truly love you and it’s a healthy relationship, I don’t see why they’d want to take advantage of you.

    However, if you don’t fully trust your partner with this sort of thing, then I wonder if it’s something you can do. You can ask your partner to participate with you. If you feel that you’re being treated unfairly, you can always make it known in a NON-accusatory conversation…

    I’m contemplating your question still!

    What do you think??

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Thanks Alexey!! :D

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Your welcome Jay! Very happy to help :) What you said means a lot to me. It’s very endearing and amazing to know that what I wrote can have such an impact on your life.

    Best wishes Jay! :)

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    You’re welcome Heartshome :) I like that you’re taking 100% responsibility for your ego and reactions.

    No I completely understand what you’re saying!! What has helped me is when I direct my mindfulness to when I am blaming and accusing. I can tell my partner that I have done X, Y, and Z, and I feel that she could’ve contributed A and B but didn’t… without accusing and blaming, but sharing my perspective.

    From there, I might get a defensive reaction, or I might get understanding. It depends on how I deliver it and how she interprets what I’m saying.

    What do you think? :D

  • http://www.lifecoachspotter.com/ Tom Casano -Life Coach Spotter

    Awesome Jeff! I love what you say. :)

    How do you keep yourself more mindful? I often notice that my mindfulness subsides when I’m not making a conscious effort.

    I’ve also noticed that sometimes when I’m meditating, the “content” of my ego subsides so much that there’s very little ego that is running amok, and less craziness to observe. As opposed to let’s say if i’m angry, then there’s a lot of really interesting stuff to look at!

    You know?

  • Rajkumar

    Very good article. And very dangerous. I think is a question of observing but not reacting. The moment we bring the anger to the situation… forget it, you will feel like a ‘victim’. Better clean the bath or just leave it dirty!

    I have linked here from my blog:

    http://aninteriorforest.com/blog/the-gift-of-pain/

  • Gbaby

    Well said tom

  • Dr. Kate

    This is a great, straightforward article. We can never be reminded of these basic principles too many times!