How to Stop the Blame Game #3
Change the Pattern
In our marriage program, we frequently see couples that are blaming each other. I’ve been talking about how to shift a couple from blame and criticism to actually working on their relationship. If you haven’t seen my other 2 posts, start there.
Jim & Susan, a fairly typical couple, first came in blaming and criticizing each other. They seemed to be stuck. After a bit of conversation, they were able to identify their pattern and understand how much it is hurting them. They both agreed to change.
At our church, we teach a marriage class aimed at couples in struggling marriages. We teach for about an hour and then we break into small groups. So, much of this work is in a small group setting.
Sometimes, it takes a few sessions for a couple to move past the blame stage. If we can redirect them into identifying their patterns, then they are much more likely to start to work on solutions. When we sense that someone is stuck, we will often meet with them privately.
Here’s the process:
- Validate their hurt
- Identify their pattern
- Gain commitment by asking about the impact of the pattern
- Brainstorm how to change the pattern
At this point, you may not know what will work. The couple may not know what will work. It’s about trying something. Change the pattern. Try something new.
If that doesn’t work, try something else.
Sometimes, what works for one couple won’t work for another couple.
We were leading a small group and one of the couples shared a tip that worked for them. When he started to escalate an argument, she would move her hands in a “take it down” type of motion. That worked for him. It was reminder that he was getting louder. One of the other woman in the small group immediately stated, “That would set me off.” That gesture communicated disrespect to her.
Another couple shared that one of their issues was when to bring up something. It always seemed like a bad time and then they wouldn’t talk through conflicts. So, they set up regular times to talk. They wrote issues they wanted to discuss on small slips of paper and put them in a jar. Then, they when they sat down, they would pull an issue out of the jar. That worked for them.
Do more of what works and do less of what doesn’t work.
There are some concepts that have been shown to help. This is where marriage education can come in helpful. We identify over 25 key concepts that can help inside of our marriage curriculum, including 9 keys to managing conflict.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Increase positive interactions – Do more things that are positive to your spouse, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Increase validation – We have an approach that we call empathic communication. This is our version of active listening or reflective listening. The difference is that we have rules for both the speaker and the listener. One of the big tasks for mentors is to coach the couple on how to validate.
- Help them be aware of their triggers – When someone reacts, talk through what is triggering them. Is it how it’s said? How it’s interpreted?
- Try something else – Help them find what works for them. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. If that doesn’t work, try again.
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