How to Stop the Blame Game #2
Understand the Impact of the Pattern
I’ve talked to pastors and seeing couples blaming each other is common in pastoral counseling.
Jim and Susan seemed to be stuck in a pattern of blame and criticism. Both of them criticize the other. That results in escalation of the argument. Then, one or both of them shut down and disconnect.
The first time I watched a couple in a pattern like this, I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t very good at helping couples to understand their patterns or to know how to manage it. I tended to jump in with advice right way. The couples would nod and vow to try to listen to each other. Then next time we met, I’d discover that they hadn’t done much to change.
I’ve learned that it’s better to explore how big the problem actually is. This builds buy-in to working on change.
Mentor: “I’d like to focus on the pattern of disagreement that you experience. As I understand it, a common pattern is that Jim comes home late. Susan, you complain. Jim feels criticized and counter-attacks. This escalates until one of you leaves the room. Is that accurate?”
Susan: “Yes, I just don’t think he cares about me.”
Jim: “She just nags and complains all the time.”
Mentor: “Jim, you feel attacked and, Susan, you feel that Jim doesn’t care for you. Am I understanding?”
Jim and Susan: Both agree
Mentor: “How often does this happen?”
Jim: “I think it’s a regular occurrence.”
Mentor: “How does it impact your connection with each other?”
Susan: “I don’t feel very connected to Jim. He goes off and doesn’t want to talk.”
Jim: “I get tired of the arguments.”
Mentor: “I’m hearing that you both agree that your connection to each other is being torn down by this pattern. What will happen if this continues?”
Susan: “I don’t know, but it scares me.”
Jim: “Something needs to change.”
Mentor: “What would happen if we worked on changing the pattern? Susan, I know that you don’t like it that Jim is late. Jim, I know that you feel attacked when you come home. What if you learned to listen to each other?”
Susan: “I’d feel he cared for me more.”
Mentor: “Would you attack him less?”
Mentor: “Jim, if Susan attacked you less, what would be the impact?”
Jim: “I’d like that. I really do care about her and I want this to work. I’d certainly feel more connected to her.”
Susan: “I’d love it if we could just talk. That would demonstrate to me that he cares.”
Mentor: “I’m hearing that the if we worked on listening and validation then it would improve your connection. Susan would attack less and Susan would feel more cared for. Jim, you’d be more willing to stay engaged. Are you both willing to work at this?”
At this point, you’ve gained commitment to change. I’ve found that it’s easier to actually get people to work on something when they see what it is they’ll get out of it. When it seems that both people are committed to change, then you can start to work on changing the pattern.”
When a couple is stuck in a pattern, it’s often difficult for them to see it. I found it much easier to talk to couples after they had gone through one of our marriage classes. We explain some of the common patterns. I’ve had a number of couples say, “That’s us.”
If you haven’t seen our online marriage education, consider using this alongside of meeting with couples. The material can help couples to recognize their own patterns.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Validate the pattern – Listen for the pattern. Repeat the pattern to them to make sure you understand.
- Ask consequence questions – Ask consequence questions. This raises the awareness of the impact of the problem and builds commitment to change.
- Validate the impact – I’ve found that the bigger the consequence that is identified, the more likely the person is to follow through. Validate your understanding of how important it is to them.
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