“You went shopping again, Marilyn! Why do you have to spend so much money? You know things are tight. You didn’t need to buy the kids more clothes.”
“The reason we are here in therapy is because my wife overspends”, says the husband. “No, no, no”, the wife interrupts, ”The problem is that Mike is so tight with money. He is constantly trying to control me and micromanage every penny I spend.” The husband replies, “I wouldn’t micromanage your spending if you weren’t charging everything at Target.” “Oh Mike, you don’t understand that the kids are growing and need more clothes. Besides, if you made a little more money instead of going into the garage and working on your car all the time, then we would have a normal marriage.”
When a couple comes into our office for marriage counseling, frequently the moment they sit down the “Blame Game” begins. Each partner comes into therapy and blatantly or secretly blames the problem on their partner. They each believe that their marriage would be fine if their spouse would just change to be more like they want them to be. Sadly, I have never heard anyone come into counseling saying “I” need to change to make my marriage healthier.
Does the story of this couple sound familiar? If we look back to the book of Genesis (3:12), after the fall, we will see Adam blaming Eve. “It was the WOMEN you gave me.” Adam then blamed God. “It was the Women YOU put here.” And then of course, Eve blamed the serpent. “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” Adam and Eve then ran, hid and covered up instead of taking responsibility for what they had done. Mike and Marilyn, and you and I are not any different. It has been in our nature to hide our weaknesses and blame one another since the fall. However, taking ownership of our weaknesses and mistakes is a huge part of stopping the blame cycle.
Often, behind a complaint or criticism is a need or desire. Look into your heart to find out what you are wanting instead of berating your spouse for a perceived shortcoming. Instead of complaining to your spouse that they didn’t call when they were late, tell them you feel scared or insecure when they are late and that you have a need to be reassured because of this fear. This kind of ownership of your own feelings and needs is more likely to get a positive response from your spouse.
Couples can have hurt and disagreements over any topic such as money, sex, kids, division of labor, hobbies or in-laws, however, what allows a couple to navigate these differences is their ability to communicates their feelings without placing blame.
Jesus states, “Take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your ‘partners’ eye, so that you may see more clearly.”(Matt. 7:5) Taking the log out of our own eye requires humility. And it can also be painful! The ‘log in our own eye’ can cause us to misinterpret our spouse, causing harm to the relationship. We must be willing to look at our own behaviors before we begin judging others. As we see ourselves and our own sinfulness more clearly, we will have more compassion and grace for our partner.
“Examine my heart, Oh Lord, and see if there is any sinful way in me.” This is a beautiful verse that we call the “Examine me, Change me,” principle. We can only change ourselves, not our spouse. We often resort to manipulation in our efforts to get the other to change. This will not motivate our spouse toward transformation or growth. However, we can change ourselves, with God’s power, and as we stop trying to control our partner and we start to focus on our own hearts, we may see our mates changing, too.
We have to be willing to listen to God with regards to our part in our relationship conflicts. God will use our spouse and children more than anyone else to bring transformation and sanctification into our lives.
Ask yourselves: What am I doing to contribute to this problem in our relationship? Am I willing to be 100% responsible for my reactions regardless of whether or not my spouse changes? A humble and responsible heart is open to hearing the pain it has caused.
In James, we are told “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you maybe healed.” We need to confess to God and our partner when we hurt them and then ask God for the power and strength to change. As the serenity prayer says “God grant me the wisdom to change the things I can, accept the things I can’t, and wisdom to know the difference”. Taking responsibility for our own growth instead of blaming our spouse will increase the bond, trust and love in our relationship and bring change quickly.