Listening to a dear friend of mine (I'll call her Hannah) prattle on about her husband I was struck by the mounting, unilateral direction of her complaints about their relationship. The big fat finger of blame was 99% directed towards him - why haven't they had sex in three months? Because she couldn't get in the mood as he's never affectionate or romantic. Why did they argue about money? Because of his Scrooge-like attitudes. Why were weekends so stressful? He never gets properly organised.
Hang on a minute, I thought, it's a rare situation where one partner's at fault for all of a couple's wedded-or-otherwise woes (those rare situations usually occur in abusive relationships). In fact I think of stresses in relationships as akin to fault-lines that run between the two partners. Imagine an earthquake fault-line - they're created by pressures from two tectonic plates, i.e., from both sides.
And when an earthquake finally strikes - because of mounting pressure from both sides - the fault-line cracks apart, resulting in damage to a relationship. Sometimes, sadly, a fracturing fault-line wreaks permanent devastation. No good finger pointing at one particular tectonic plate or another - both sides have a part to play in relationship fissures.
So, as I was saying, Hannah's a lovely woman and great friend but that doesn't absolve her from falling into this very common trap: when you're stressed and your relationship's suffering it's easy to finger point, allocating blame - as easily as you might allocate rubbish to different coloured recycling sacks. Yet we're not talking about rubbish here unless you count rubbishing your partner to anyone who'll listen... and that's what Hannah and many other women do.
Sometimes some good can come from rubbishing a partner behind their back - it allows you to let off steam. By the time you see them that evening you feel better about the whole situation - and far less blaming. But that's not necessarily so and finger pointing may easily continue at home.
If you dig deep enough into the emotional state of the person doing the finger pointing you often find an insecure 'inner child' lurking underneath. This child fears rejection if they openly acknowledge they've behaved badly or undermined their partner, etc., they don't want their 'bad' behaviour acknowledged.
This conflict between the fear of owning up - and knowing you're directing negative and often undeserved attention to a partner - is unsettling frequently making matters worse.
Stop a moment and listen to yourself as you blame your partner for 'this' or 'that' issue - particularly when talking to close friends. If you recognise yourself in this brief description I hope you find the courage to accept responsibility for your share of difficulties.
Let's face it, ultimately it takes the 'bigger' woman and/or man to hold their hands up to stresses they've caused or are part of. In doing this you allow that insecure, blaming inner child to finally grow up.
Hannah's behaviour reminded me of a study I read a few years ago*. One aspect found that those couples with fewer difficulties were less likely to 'blame'. They appeared to write-off negative behaviour from their partner as being outside of their partner's basic personality - rather than some negative thing permanently cemented into their partner's personality.
These attitudes make moving-on easier and the blame game less likely to be played. You become far more accepting of their faults and then it's easier to accept your own. Again, this way of relating can only help that fearful 'child' lurking within you.
Let's end where we began - with Hannah. As I hope a good friend would do for me (and have done for me in different contexts to this!), I felt I should gently challenge Hannah about some of the criticisms she levelled at her husband.
The easiest topic? Unlikely as it may seem it was the sex and romance thing... I mentioned how sometimes men need us to take the lead with romance. Maybe she needed to drop some hints and create some romantic moments for him.
We pondered notions that men need to be the 'romantic lead' in our relationships as they are in films and that this was quite unrealistic. Hannah's worked out some new strategies for this specific arena and maybe she'll listen more closely to her ever-critical voice generally. I know I keep listening to mine, hoping to catch myself before I start allocating blame to my rather lovely, blameless husband.