WHO IS TO BLAME
The professional counselling relationship can only be beneficial, when there are healthy boundaries in place. One such boundary for the counsellor, is to not participate in work which is more harmful than helpful for clients. As a relationship counsellor, I am at times presented with a couple, where there is a lack of empathy, and respect for each other. Where one person feels self-blame, helplessness, demoralized, and the other experiences self-centeredness, and self-absorption, often with the best of intentions.
One such couple presented with the wife visibly distressed, and her husband stating calmly, his wife is depressed and she ‘often gets like this’. He further mentioned he had some serious grievances he needed to discuss about her, such as her lack of attention to household chores, not being able to hold down a job, and often not taking her medication for her depression. He explained in detail how he would tell her what to do, however, she never followed his suggestions. He stated several times, how he had her best interests at heart, and how much he loved her.
It is vital to provide BOTH partners with equal power in the session; to define what they individually experience in their marriage, what they thought, and believed about their experiences with each other. The following two questions delivers a great deal of information, as it provides the opportunity for reflection, and taking ownership:
- What do you think it is like living with you?
- What are you no longer willing to accommodate/put up with/do for love?
These questions are designed for each individual to have the courage to act on their own behalf, to take responsibility for how they enter each other’s lives, and to be accountable for how they influence each other. We all lose power in different ways, and in different times in our relationships. In this marriage his wife sacrificed to much of herself, and experienced a continuous loss of personal power, which contributed to her depression experience.
Her husband was unwilling to take any responsibility for how he negatively contributed to their marriage. He blamed and insulted his wife, had unrealistic expectations of household chores, and acted punitively towards her. There was no place of safety and reasonableness in counselling this couple. Everything was his wife’s fault, and her responsibility. Counselling was another avenue he wanted to use to convince his wife, and me as the counsellor, that his wife was unwell, unreliable and untrustworthy.
Blame played a big part in this marriage, and there are several possible reasons for its use. Blame is often used to protect individual self-esteem, a learnt behavior, a desire to improve a relationship, and a failure to take any responsibility for oneself.
Blaming others does not actually solve any of the above mentioned concerns. For this couple, the husband’s blame caused him to experience rejection, emotional difficulties, and being disconnected from his wife. His wife allowed him to blame her repeatedly, and she eventually emotionally disconnected from him, turned her anger towards herself, and felt victimized. There was nothing loving about this interaction between them.
His wife played an important psychological role as the scapegoat in their marriage, and although it may have protected his self-esteem, it was damaging the well-being of his wife, and their marriage. The healthiest approach was to consider individual counselling for them both, to deal with learnt relational patterns, lack of self-esteem, conflict, and insecurity. We cannot deal with blame in one single session, as it would often result in defensiveness, and escalate conflict.
When this couple, through individual counselling, understood the reasons for the blame, and the victimization they allowed in their marriage, and took ownership for how they both contributed to the blame cycle in their marriage, relationship counselling became beneficial. Relationship counselling assisted them in establishing loving behaviors, firm personal boundaries, and fostering respect, by rebuilding effective and loving communication.
It is ultimately not about being stuck between two choices – allow the blame or end the marriage, or who is right, and who is wrong. It is about how to increase love, respect, personal ownership, and a safe and loving connection. When the focus became the outcome of their discussions, rather than on the blame, there was no longer a need to defend, withdraw, shut down, or draw another into their conflict.
Relationship counselling is not about taking sides, or supporting mixed agendas, and allowing the ‘who’s to blame story’ to continue. It is considering the relationship dynamics which continuously drives the two people in the relationship apart, and what constructive steps they, and the counsellor, can take to shift this dynamic. Ultimately the relationship is the client in relationship counselling.
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If you can identify with this and would like to find out more about how we can help
Please call Newlands Counselling on 1300 001 220
Copyright Sandra Bowden