Imagine a close relationship in which nobody ever criticizes or blames! We imagined it, almost thirty years ago, but at the time, imagining was all we could do. We were both major-league critics and blamers (and if you spent a dinner hour with the families we grew up in, you'd see where we picked up the habit!)
Ending blame and chronic criticism is a task well worth taking on. According to research in marriage and relationship, the #1 slayer of intimacy is blame and chronic criticism. Marital researcher John Gottman calls criticism one of the "Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse" that spells doom in a close relationship (the other three Horsemen are contempt, defensiveness and withdrawal.) It's not just a problem in your relationships with others. Self-blame works exactly the same as blaming another person. In self-blame, you use one part of your mind as the criticizer and another part as the recipient.
As Walt Disney said, "If you can dream it you can do it," so we dreamed up the idea of eliminating blame and chronic criticism from our own relationship, as a test laboratory of whether it was even possible. We have a tradition in our work of never teaching anything to others that we haven't carefully tested in the laboratory of our relationship. Now, after many years of practice, we can proudly say we brought the dream into reality: Neither one of us has spoken a critical word to the other in at least ten years. Nobody in our house has blamed anybody for anything in so long we can't remember the last time it happened.
How did we do it? There's a secret--actually two secrets--and if you learn them, you can see a miracle happen in your living room, your bedroom and even your boardroom.
Secret #1: Open The Door With Your Commitment
It begins with commitment. Make a sincere commitment to ending blame and criticism inside yourself and around you. If you're in a close relationship, invite your partner to make the same commitment. Without co-commitment, the challenge is much tougher.
Secret #2: Practice Claiming Healthy Responsibility
Next, claim healthy responsibility for whatever issues you've been blaming the other person for. If you blame your partner for spending too much money, for example, drop the blame. Instead, claim healthy responsibility by wondering, "Hmmm, I wonder how and why I'm creating a scarcity of money right now?" or "Hmmm, I wonder why I attracted a partner with extravagant spending habits?" If you're starting to criticize your partner for not being interested in sex, stop in your tracks and wonder, "Hmmm, how did I manage to dream up a life in which people aren't begging me to have sex with them constantly?"
Ask those powerful questions with wonder, not self-blame. Wonder smooths the way for deep realizations to come to you gently.
It took us a couple of years of rigorous practice before we got good at catching criticism before it left our mouths. But you know what? It was well worth it. Instead of criticizing each other, we put that energy into positive things like writing books together, raising successful kids and having lots of good times along the way.