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Fighting fair: Avoid blaming statements

November 15, 2011

Getting back to our Fighting Fair series, today’s post is all about blaming. You know what blaming is–you’ve been doing it since kindergarten. It’s a natural defense–someone does something to you, your instinct is to point the finger back at them. And while your partner very well may have done something to upset you, pointing the finger is only going to elicit defensiveness, withdrawal, and even anger.

Points two and four on the 8 Ground Rules for Fighting Fair both deal with this issue.

2. Use “I” statements

When you start a conversation with “You” {as in, You made me really angry when you did x,y,& z}, you almost immediately set off a warning signal in the recipient’s head. Danger. I’m about to be blamed for something here. And when the mind detects danger, the body reacts in one of three ways: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. You remember these terms from Anatomy class, don’t you? Good!

You’re better off beginning your statement with “I.” For example, I felt really awful when you made that comment earlier. It’s gentler and it requires you to take ownership of how you’re feeling.

4. Talk about your partner’s behavior rather than his/her personality characteristics

The same is true when you focus on your partner’s behavior instead of his/her personality. Behavior can be changed. Personality characteristics–not so much. So instead of telling your partner that he/she is selfish, try explaining the actions that made you feel that way. Example, When you came home late last night without calling, that made me feel as though you weren’t thinking about me and my feelings. Sure, it’s a selfish behavior but it’s going to be received much better if you’re pinpointing the action instead of the characteristic.

There are, of course, some caveats that you have to be mindful of here.

I feel as though you’re being selfish.

Points for achieving #2. Failed attempt at #4.

Even I feel hurt that you’re being so selfish doesn’t quite cut it. You’re owning your feelings, which is good, but you’re still attacking your partner’s character.

You can also sabotage #4 by attacking your significant other’s behavior or using words and descriptions that elicit defensiveness. Such as, It made me feel really bad about myself when I saw you leering at that woman tonight. Leering may not be the best choice of words. Instead of hearing that you felt bad, your partner is most likely going to hear leering and defend himself. You know what happens next, right? I was not leering. Oh yes you were! Engage shouting match.


Sometimes you’re too angry to present your case in a non-blaming, gentle manner. Even if you technically follow the above rules, your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language can convey a much different attitude. And that’s OK. So, you’re angry, your partner gets angry, and the two of you argue. You step away {more on Time Outs later} and come back to these guidelines when you’ve calmed down and are able to have a conversation. Remember, the point isn’t that you get it right all the time. It’s that you keep trying.

What do you think? Looking back, can you notice the times when you didn’t follow these guidelines and the effect it had? How can you remind yourself to complain, not blame in the moment?


6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 12:05 pm

    I’m really good at #2, and have been learning how important #4 is, but the “I feel as though you’re being selfish” is a TRICKY one! I hadn’t been watching out for that, and will now. I can see how that has made what feels like a fair statement (starting with “I”) not have the effect on my hubby that I expect it to.

    (I think to myself, why is he upset and getting defensive? I’ve been using I statements!)

    But #4 isn’t something that’s talked about nearly as much as #2, and it’s been invaluable as I’ve been trying to incorporate it into how I talk to Zach. (and anyone I may be disagreeing with, for that matter)

    • November 15, 2011 12:11 pm

      I think your previous comment really applies here too–about reminding yourself of your spouse’s character and knowing that it was his BEHAVIOR that upset you. I actually think that point applies across the board–and is key for calming yourself down–but it seems to be really poignant for these points. Thanks for always sharing, Elspeth. Love, love, love your comments!!

      • November 18, 2011 12:19 pm

        Yeah, remembering that whatever upset me probably wasn’t on purpose REALLY helps. I’ve been…umm…hormonal…this week? So Zach’s kind character has been pretty far from my mind lately. But we never become conversational/conflict masters. It’s something we get to try to be better at daily. At least it means the inverse is true too, we don’t have to be stuck being bad at it.

        You’re very welcome! I love commenting on your blog! You give a lot to think about and respond to. 🙂

  2. November 15, 2011 4:51 pm

    I so love this series-such wonderful perspective in the world of mason jars and twinkle lights!


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