When I work with couples, one of the keys to helping them change an unhappy relationship into one that’s mutually satisfying, is to help them make the shift away from blaming each other for their unhappiness. Every couple, to some degree, believes that if only their spouse was different (or did things differently), things would be better. The reality is that we are each responsible for figuring out what makesus happy. In a healthy relationship partners can communicate their needs and feel supported in their pursuit ofhappiness. This particular goal is one of the reasons that relationships take can be hard work.
I’ve been working with a couple, Sylvia and Adam (namesand personal information has been changed to protect confidentiality) who have been together for 20 years. Their presenting problem;
Sylvia’s Perspective: Sylvia feels taken for granted in therelationship and doesn’t understand where ‘the Adam that she fell in love with has gone.’ She describes a scenario
where she carries the emotional burden of the relationship as well as the maintenance of the house, even though she has an equally demanding job outside of the home. She feels Adam is withdrawn and has little interest in her needs, and as a result most discussions escalate into destructive fights so that she can get his attention ( as well as trying to hurt him because she feels abandoned by him).
Adam’s Perspective: Adam had dated different women over the years, but had never been in a long-term relationship. He came from a family where women were seenin a more tradition role; the woman kept the house and attended to the childrenwhile the man made the more important decisions. As a result Adam experienced Sylvia as abewildering puzzle; she worked and played hard like a man, but she wasemotional and demanding in a way that he couldn’t comprehend. In his mind he had made compromises thatincluded Sylvia in the decision making, and saw her demands for morecommunication as an example of her female moodiness.
Sylvia and Adam came across as two decent hard-working people who felt trapped in a war that they couldn’t comprehend or escape. Individually they had emotional issues that they had never dealt with which exacerbated the situation. I felt that my first goal was to help them to identify how much of their unhappiness stemmed from the disappointments that they each were feeling about where they were in their lives There were health issues, job dissatisfaction and feelings of opportunities missed. Universal issues that we can all relate to.
Most couples play the blame game when they feel frustrated and trapped in life. We all want tobelieve that when we don’t know where to turn, our partner will show us the way. Unfortunately this can’t work. Our partners can support our goals and dreams, but they can’t define them for us.
After some hard work, both Sylvia and Adam began talking to each other about their disappointments without the blame, and they could hear each other, because they no longer felt attacked. They began to work more as a team by brainstorming with each other about how they could resolve personal problems. It became possible to support changes that would help each other, even when it meant having to do something that pushed them out of their comfort zones. Sylvia and Adam had moved from blaming each other to taking individual responsibility for changing their lives.