Do you blame your partner when things don’t go your way? Does he/she do the same to you? Is blame inevitable? Maybe. But you can do something about it … before it causes big trouble in your romantic partnership.
Regular Frank Love readers know that I promote acceptance and flexibility in relationships … even when dealing with those who are not accepting and flexible. I recently read an interesting article by Lauren Bryant called “The Blame Game,” which details the work of Mark Alicke, a psychologist from Ohio University. Alicke believes that to blame is human. I agree. According to the article, he also believes that “forgiveness just isn’t natural, the way placing blame is.” This is a guy after my own heart … not because I completely agree with him, but because he is thinking, expressing and questioning some of our fundamental inner-workings.
But here is where Alicke and I disagree. He believes that “it’s nearly impossible to correct for our own personal biases.” I think it’s difficult, but not impossible. It just takes practice, which starts with identifying a bias. When you find yourself thinking harsh thoughts about someone, or being lured into a round of the blame game, simply stop and question your motives. Ask yourself: Is this really true? What are my reasons for reaching this conclusion? Is my conclusion based purely on fact, or on preconceived notions about the person or people like him/her? And most importantly, what do I get out of believing this thought? You may be surprised (and humbled) by what you discover.
This type of self-examination requires serious, conscious effort, because it means tapping into and correcting powerful, subconscious thoughts. Consider the following experiment: Alicke and his colleagues told two groups of test subjects that a young man had a car accident while rushing home, and that because the stop sign was obscured, the details of the accident were unclear. One group was told that the driver was rushing home to hide a gift for his parents. The other group heard that he was hiding cocaine. Not surprisingly, those who heard the latter were more likely to blame him for the accident, while those who believed he was hiding a present were more likely to blame the obscured sign.
But if the participants in this study were honest with themselves, the most reasonable conclusion would seemingly have been, “I don’t know what happened.” The ambiguity caused by the sign’s obstruction was reason enough to doubt any concrete conclusion. However, many of us are not comfortable saying “I don’t know” and leaving the matter alone. We want closure, and that often means blaming someone. The problem is that we rarely have all the information about what other people do and think, so we rely on our biases, not fact, when assigning blame.
As Bryant writes in her article:
In most situations, it’s just not possible to say with certainty whether a person intended to do wrong or played a causal role in an outcome. [But Alicke says that] “when we make such judgments, those judgments are very much influenced by our other kinds of evaluation.”
No matter the context, blaming involves a morally charged evaluation—we deem someone or something bad or wrong.
So, as you take a look at the level of harshness with which you levy judgment on others (especially your partner), consider what lens you are looking through (e.g., your bias). Conditioning yourself not to do the natural thing – play the blame game – goes a long way towards making you a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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