As a psychotherapist, I have found a very strong distinction between people (the relationship part mentioned in the title will come shortly). The two main categories of people are “It’s all my fault” and “It’s all your fault.” There are a few people who understand that we need to share responsibility when there’s a conflict, but for the most part, I have to teach this third category of “It’s both our fault.” Some people have a hard time accepting this idea, that we need to see conflict as both our fault, but it’s an important lesson to accept. If I say, “It’s all your fault,” I’m essentially saying, “I’m weak and helpless,” which means if I say “It’s all my fault,” I’m saying, “You’re weak and helpless.” Call me crazy, but that’s not something most people want to be told: “You think I’m weak and helpless? Thank you so much.” I will even go so far so as to say that a kid being bullied needs to recognize it’s half their fault, so they can do things to change their situation like find protection, avoid the person, and/or fight back (yes, sometimes fighting back is important).
Years ago I apologized to an old friend who was picked on a lot in grade seven and eight because I never helped him. It was never that bad, but I still never helped him when he was picked on. When I did this, he was very quick to say, “You don’t need to apologize. I made the situation way worse than it needed to be.” I was floored by his wise response. By taking responsibility, he was able to get over the little stupid things they did to him. Fun fact, the couple guys who picked on him were not “top” students – strange. My friend acknowledged that he was just an awkward kid (like 98% of kids are) and the kids picking on him were jerks because that’s what kids do trying to be cool and/or funny, especially when compensating for their weak school abilities. Instead of feeling like a victim, my friend moved on and has made a very good life for himself with a very respectable career and wonderful family and friends. The people who picked on him, unless something drastically changed, would be strong candidates for rehab as they were drinking and smoking pot by grade 7 – definitely not top students. If you met my friend today you’d never guess he got picked on because he’s so well-spoken, intelligent, and friendly. Meanwhile, I know someone (not a client) who was assaulted and now they’re afraid to leave their house because it was “all” the other person’s fault. The reality is they need to recognize their own mistakes that led to the situation, so they won’t feel as weak and helpless. Even if it’s as simple as taking a self defence course to know how to defend themselves, not be alone where they were, or not be where they were in the first place (it was a stupid spot to be). There is definitely something they could have done differently, which meant they had some responsibility for what happened. The one exception to this rule is when there is an abuse of power like when a child is hurt by an adult, but for the most part, we want to accept some of the responsibility in order to feel safer in the future.
These three types of people are important to understand because it leads to the 6 basic relationship dynamics:
- Person 1: It’s all my fault Person 2: It’s all my fault
- Person 1: It’s all my fault Person 2: It’s all your fault
- Person 1: It’s all my fault Person 2: It’s both our fault
- Person 1: It’s all your fault Person 2: It’s all your fault
- Person 1: It’s all your fault Person 2: It’s both our fault
- Person 1: It’s both our fault Person 2: It’s both our fault
Obviously, the last row is the healthiest category, and that’s what I try to teach couples to be. The first row, having two people who want to blame themselves, can also be pretty good for conflict, but it’s not as healthy. For instance, my parents were in that category, which meant they never fought. They were also quick to apologize and do things to help the other person feel better – that’s pretty great. The problem was they had increased anxiety and guilt from blaming themselves. If they were in the healthier, “It’s both our fault” spot, they could’ve reduced that, but overall they were wonderful role models for having less conflict and reduced repercussions from conflict; it just came at the expense of themselves.
Dealing with anyone who says “It’s all your fault,” is the worst to deal with. Anyone who only blames others will do well in a relationship with anyone who blames themselves because they balance: (person 1) “It’s all your fault!” (person 2) “Yes, I know. I will now beat myself up. Feel free to grab a metaphorical stick and join me.” People who only blame others rarely end up with people who also blame others for very long because there’s no resolution. Neither side will accept responsibility, so the relationship can’t last. These people also rarely end up with those who say “It’s both our fault,” because these people are too healthy to be with such emotionally damaging people.
I currently work at being “It’s both our fault,” but it’s not always easy. We want to feel sorry for ourselves whether that means blaming others or feeling sorry for ourselves while beating ourselves up. People who only blame others can learn to accept some responsibility, but it’s a challenge. There’s a chance the partner asking the right guiding questions will help, but ultimately, they likely need to be told how they participated by an outside person like a therapist. A spouse telling another spouse to change is always playing with dynamite.
This week may you consider how you can be the “It’s both our fault person.” It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)