How to Win in the Blame Game

It's so easy to take things personally. Instead, the next time you notice yourself feeling defensive or like you're a failure or that you're not good enough, practice using a buffer phrase.
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Frustrated young man sitting after having an argument with his wife in bedroom
Frustrated young man sitting after having an argument with his wife in bedroom

John Gray With Anat Baniel: Tip 3 - How to Win in the Blame Game

This is the third blog post in my interview series with John Gray in support of parents of children with special needs and parents in general. As we discussed in our first and second posts, when your child has special needs, the challenges and stresses to your relationship with your partner grow exponentially. As a parent to a child with special needs, one of the most important skills is learning how to communicate lovingly and effectively with your partner at difficult times, such as when making decisions as to how to best help your child or simply when dealing with the extra challenges of the daily care of your child.

When a parent realizes that his/her child has a serious problem, be it ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, undiagnosed developmental disorders, a genetic disorder or any other problem, first there is the shock, fear and confusion. Often times, in an attempt to make sense of it all, there is a tendency to either blame oneself and feel guilt or blame others. As time progresses, these feelings of stress, frustration, overwhelm, anxiety and fear may persist and even increase.

As parents, we start to feel like it's our fault, that we should be able to help solve our child's problems and that something is wrong with us. Then there is the flip side: We may blame our partners. This is called defensiveness. When we are defensive, we have a hard time listening to our partner and taking in what they are telling us. We also tend to become more critical, blaming and attacking.

Whether we have a child with special needs or not, when we're under a lot of stress, defensiveness is likely to show up. It's very normal and common, and at the same time, highly desirable to change, because defensiveness can damage a relationship by denying both partners the love and support they so long for and need. The good news is there are other options.

Step 1: Recognize when you are defensive.
When you find that you're blaming yourself or about to blame your partner, when you feel that it is ALL her/his fault, or you bounce back and forth as to whom you blame, you are being defensive. When you find yourself arguing and excusing your actions or putting your partner in a position where s/he is feeling "wrong" or "bad" and s/he has to justify her/his actions, you are being defensive.

Step 2: Recognize when your partner is being defensive.
When your partner is blaming his/herself or you and you feel like you need to defend yourself, realize that your partner is feeling defensive and could use some love and support.

Step 3: Do not get sucked in, acknowledge to each other that you are being defensive.
The moment that you become aware that you are being defensive, stop the conversation and tell your partner that you just realized you are being defensive, that you are sorry for being blaming and attacking, and either ask for a brief time out to calm yourself down or simply tell your partner that you are backing off from all the blame.

If it is your partner that is being defensive, gently acknowledge the great stress of the moment and tell her or him that you feel attacked and ask that s/he change how s/he communicates with you at that the moment.

Step 4: Move to gentle and intentional communication -- buffer phrases.
One of the best approaches at times like this is to be gentle with each other when you communicate. It's important to pay attention to the words you are using. Often, when you are defensive, you will come across as criticizing or blaming your partner without intending or even knowing you are doing so.

You can learn how to soften what you are saying by adding a few "buffer phrases." A buffer phrase sounds like this:

I didn't mean to sound so critical. I want to take a moment to let you know what I do appreciate but I also want to share what is going on inside of me.

Or, if you are feeling criticized or blamed by your partner, another way to use these buffer phrases is to say something like:

Honey, I know you don't mean to sound critical, but it's starting to sound like I don't do anything right. So let's pause for a moment and just tell me the good things I do.


That makes sense, but let's take a moment to look at the good things that you and I are doing and then come back to this discussion.

After you take a few minutes to talk about the good things you do, then you can respond with:

OK, now we can come back to our discussion.

It's so easy to take things personally. Instead, the next time you notice yourself feeling defensive, or feeling like you're a failure or that you're not good enough, practice using a buffer phrase. Try to shift to more gentle communication so that you don't end up pushing your partner's buttons.

Out of wisdom and love for each other, it is important to soften your communication when you or your partner are feeling defensive. This will make difficult discussions so much easier. Remember, you, too, have special needs and a great need for love and appreciation, and so does your partner. Both of you are facing real challenges that you can handle better as a loving team.

WATCH: Recognizing Defensiveness - Learning How to Use "Buffer Phrases"
to Soften Communication: Tip #3 From John Gray

Try using buffer phrases when communicating and see if it makes a difference in your discussions. We'd love to hear what you think.

Watch for our next video blog Tip #4 With John Gray: Making Decisions When You Disagree What Is Best

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