Blaming the Partner
Taking Responsibility for Failed Relationships
By: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2014 (edited November 30, 2021)
We seek closeness and security. When seeking causes for a failed relationship, we often skirt personal responsibility and blame the partner.
We can’t help it. The importance of acceptance, attachment and connection invites biased assessments. We seldom hear, in the heat of marital discord, a person take responsibility. We might graciously make small admissions, but then quickly excuse are insignificant gaffes, while concentrating on the glaring imperfections of a partner. Majority of people rate their own relationship skills higher than they rate the relationship skills of their partner; a statistical impossibility.
Subjective Evaluations of Fault
When evaluating a partner’s skills, we’re often harsh, not affording the same generous exceptions we offer ourselves. Our subjective evaluations create greater conflict. When relationship problems arise, our biased mind quickly dodges responsibility by pointing to a non-self abrasive answer—it’s my partner’s fault.
After a slew of failed relationships, instead of conceding to our relating handicaps, we give a little, determining that we must lack judgment in choosing partners.
Self-protection meddles with assessments, interfering by inviting menacing deceptions, and shirking the shame of insufficiency. Another relationship fails, we blame the partner, and move on to finding someone that shares our wonderous, magical skills of romantic genius.
"If you want to improve a relationship, it's not that you demand your spouse to change. You have to ask, 'Where did I fail in this relationship?'"
A mismatch between reality and perception hinders constructive action, blurring our focus and misdirecting energy. We escape confusing complexities by blaming the partner and demand they fix it.
Our minds are complex. We must constantly stand guard. Conscious attention is necessary to discover some of the discreet maneuverings occurring behind the curtains of consciousness. Our own actions occasionally surprise us. In relationships, we add the workings of another complex being—the outcomes can be baffling.
Joint Responsibility for Relationship Success and Failure
Relationship failure or success is a joint effort, requiring skills and constant adjustments. Relationships are dynamic. They ebb and flow with the environment, gaining strength from communications, trust, and shared emotions. Too many deficiencies eventually slowly erode the bonds, leaving a couple ill prepared to navigate the inevitable more serious collisions that demand extra resources. We must build during times of happiness to have enough reserves to weather the bleaker moments.
Complexity and Relationships
Relationships are dynamic, each action (and reaction) mesh with the whole. A single act isn’t isolated. Intricately intertwined with past interactions—each communication and facial grimace conveys a message. We routinely encounter stories relayed from dissatisfied people narrating their personal horror, coloring their partner in evilness or stupidness and themselves as innocent victims. Usually large chunks of these stories are missing. We only see small pieces of the whole, unconsciously designed to create the picture the storyteller desires.
The beleaguered sufferer can’t convey the complexity with a few words partly because they don’t see the complexity. They are lost in their simplified version of events that blames the partner.
A relationship weighted with messy histories will struggle, each new conflict is complicated with the weight of the past. Healing these strained connections is difficult. Even with improved skills, partners conditioned with hurtful pasts continue to misinterpret new behaviors. The fear of repeats from the past delivers the punch. We continue to react to these patterned interpretations, and then partners react to our interpretation of their reaction—and their reaction to our reaction, and around and around it goes.
Interactions may start with a simple comment, then the flow begins, the volley of information being passed back and forth with each partner often extracting an entirely different message. When connection is missing, partners feel unheard—not simply their words, but their feelings. The couple is physically together but each feeling alone.
"Healing these strained connections is difficult."
We Can't Forcibly Cure Our Partners
Taking personal responsibility is essential, however, our partner's willingness is also a prerequisite for change. Partners are not non-entities. The world, unfortunately, has narcissist, sociopaths and sadistic people; one of them, conceivably, could be sleeping in your bed. In these cases, improving relationship skills has a place; but with a different goal. Relationship skills won’t solve their beastly problems.
Our improved skills assist in creating a safer environment, avoiding dangerous confrontations, and eventually, perhaps, facilitating a necessary escape. Depending on the seriousness of a partner’s psychological ailments, escape may be the only path to intimacy (with someone else). It’s essential to establish a supporting cast of friends, family and professionals to free your selves from the torments of abuse.
New relationships need time for discovery; narcissists, sociopaths, and sadists are masters of concealing their broken souls. They are also victims; but fixing them while in the relationship is nearly impossible. Their needs are too strong and attacks too cutting. The victim to abusive partners loses their individuality, constantly defending boundaries, and enduring painful attacks is exhausting.
These emotionally devastating relationships our often endured in seclusion, shamed and alone. Many courageously endure the abuse for years, motivated by a fanciful hope for change. The victim stays in the nightmare and silently suffers. Even the emotionally strong can’t endure this non-relenting stress.
We need loving support, lengthy relationships with emotionally starved and abusive partners is destructive. Eventually, we give way to the strain, begin to doubt our emotions, behaviors, and memories, incurring damage to our souls—we become broken, as well. Avoiding these nasty relationships requires taking time, allowing for true natures to be exposed.
All people have idiosyncrasies but most stumblings are manageable. Our partners, just like us, possess a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. When a relationship begins to sour, our pucker is often from intensified interpretations rather than actual changes in a partner’s character.
Most relationships that fail area result of subtle and accumulating neglects. Failure several years after the joyous inception typically isn't caused by a devilish conjuring of previously non-existent traits; but subtle changes and magnifying interpretations.
Once bitter, simple behaviors appear rude, selfish, mean-spirited, and evil only because we now label them as such. Our once dear partner becomes the enemy—at least in our own eyes (and emotional reactions), from our poisoned interpretations.
The occasional hurts accumulate biasing future interpretations. Soon, with enough hurts, even positive behaviors elicit suspicion. When positive and neutral interactions are skeptically received and given a negative spin, the relationship has run its course, sorrow swallows the previous joys, and quaint memories of past romance fade as intimacy perilously falls into the throat of the beast. Anger, sadness, vindictiveness, defensiveness, and seclusion soon invade leaving a heart, family and soul in ruins.
"We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers instead of critics."
If your first reaction to relationship discomfort is: "this is excellent advice for my partner," or "this does not pertain to me, my partner really is a good for nothing selfish @$%$$#%." Look again. Probe a little deeper, examining your own soul. Perhaps you may discover that your personal assessment is skewed, misdirecting blame, and side-stepping responsibility.
Two people must be able to step up, take responsibility for their contributions to the success and failure of the relationship, discuss differences, and make resolutions to change. These constructive dialogues become the catalysts to change. We must shift from blaming the partner to blaming the complex situation and slowly discover ways to health.
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