It feels good to blame our spouses for the problems in our marriage, but blaming others is just a mark of our own sinfulness.
Don’t you think that marrying the son of a world famous Christian marriage expert would be a good thing? I (Amy) thought so as well. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! I am not being mean, I’m just being honest. Michael and I found ourselves after 6 months of marriage at a place where divorce felt like an option. We were miserable and we could not see the light of day through all of our constant fighting and avoiding each other. I would yell and then Michael would run away. This seesaw of emotions made life and our marriage miserable“ dare I say—horrible. We easily could have been one of those “starter marriages”, where a young couple gets married and divorced in less than a year’s time. What was wrong with us? I would love to share all the things Michael was doing to make matters worse, but since this is about taking personal responsibility, I guess I should stick with how I was hurting the marriage and contributing to the brokenness and misery of our first 6 months.
One of my most favorite things to say in those first six months of marriage was, “I wouldn’t be so angry and yell if you wouldn’t....” Another way to say it this was, “You make me yell! I don’t want to yell, but you keep messing up!” I had convinced myself that I was a victim of Michael’s unhealth. I truly believed that I was in the right to yell because Michael was making mistakes left and right. In essence, if Michael would only behave I would not have to yell. In my mind, I was actually being forced to yell at Michael. I was not my fault, but Michael’s fault! Whew, this meant that I was as good of a person as I thought I was. Blaming Michael meant that I was less at fault for our bad marriage. The only problem was that the relief I felt for blaming Michael only seemed to make our marriage worse. This attitude of mine did not help the marriage, it hurt the marriage. The problem with sin is that everyone has a problem with it, which means that I was equally at fault for what was going on in my marriage. I was not a victim of Michael’s unhealth, I was a victim of my own unhealth.
When we say, “It’s not my fault!”, we take on the attitude of blaming. We want to unpack blaming and show you how it destroys the chance of a happy marriage. Let’s start our exploration of blaming with the first person to ever blame. Adam. In one of the greatest examples of blaming to ever be recorded Adam said to God in response to getting caught eating the apple, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.” What an awesome example of blaming! The eating of the apple was the first mistake man ever made, and with the first mistake ever made man chose to blame both God and women! Very little has changed since Adam uttered the first blame. But how interesting that the first sin was also accompanied by the first blame.
Why doesn’t blaming work? Why did it hurt us during our first six months of marriage? Because blaming disconnects us from God and others. Blaming is a reflection of our pride. It is our pride that will prevent us from seeing the truth in our marriage. The truth that we are just as messed up as our spouse. We like to say there are two kinds of people in this world. Those people who are “normally dysfunctional” and those people who are “specially dysfunctional”. Notice how there is no one free from dysfunction. There are just different levels of dysfunction. Normal dysfunction is like you and us. Normal people trying to make their way in the world and trying to do the right thing. Specially dysfunctional people are those who do the truly evil things in life.
But why does it feel so good to blame our spouse for the problems in our marriage? We deal with this very issue when couples in crisis come to our Marriage Restoration Intensive program here in Houston. Couples come from all over the country to get help with their marriage. Almost 100% of these couples come because something is wrong with their marriage and their spouse. We can not think of a person who has come to an intensive with the attitude of, “this is what I have done wrong.” It is almost always something more like, “This is what my spouse has done wrong.” There are three main reasons why people love to blame their spouse for a broken marriage:
It comes quite natural to us (Genesis 3:12). It makes us feel better about ourselves. It takes the focus off our own sinfulness.
Blaming makes us feel better about ourselves because we can justify our response to sin against us. When our spouse does something that is wrong, and then we choose to react poorly, we can feel bad about our poor reaction. However, if we blame our spouse for our bad reaction, we do not have to feel as bad. Unfortunately, this does not last very long because it is a flawed response. Feeling better because of blaming our spouse does not work. It actually leads to even worse feelings of bitterness and unforgiveness. The cycle of blaming does not improve our situation, it always makes it worse.
Lastly, when we blame our spouse for the problems in our marriage, it takes the focus off our sinfulness and puts it on the sinfulness of our spouse. This kind of thinking leads to us being judgmental.
Blaming does not work because it keeps the cycle of sin spiraling out of control. Our spouse will treat us the way we are treating our spouse. Jesus’ words in Matthew are so important. When we worry about the sin in our spouse we are merely highlighting our own sin! In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say that our sin is worse than the sin of the person we are focusing on. We can not waste valuable energy focusing on what is wrong with our spouse. We need to save that energy to use on our own problems. The more energy we use focusing on our spouse, the less energy we have to deal with our own stuff. This is the reality for any person in a marriage, “It is my fault.” No matter what is going on in the marriage, we can always find something we could have done better. We are not blaming you for mistakes your spouse makes.
All we are trying to say is that by focusing on your spouse’s mistakes, you are making the marriage less happy and making yourself more vulnerable to the consequences of blaming.