Damn Blame Game



In the quest for love? Behavioral science can help. Send your question to MazeQuest@thelovemaze.com. Questions may be revised and edited.

Dear Maze,

My girlfriend and I have been living together for 2 years. Lately, we are trapped in the blame game. Maybe this is long time coming, but I kept ignoring it. Whatever mishaps, I'm always the one to blame for. I constantly find myself in defense. This morning, we overslept so she was late for work. She blamed me for not turning on the alarm. "I didn't know it was my job to wake you up in time! You are not a child." I countered. "Oh, yeah, turning on the alarm is a big job for you? How can I expect to rely on you for anything! I should know better. I'm not a child!" See, you can't win. No one is happy. How can I break out? Maybe we take a break from each other? –Paul

When mishaps happen and people are stressed out, it's a natural tendency to blame others to feel better. Unfortunately, it's usually the closest one who takes the brunt. Unless you truly don't mind, ignoring or avoiding won't address the root cause. Defending or counterattack will make it worse.

A powerful psychological tendency can come to rescue. You can tap into the power of Reciprocity to break the vicious cycle. Reciprocity is a guiding principle of our social interactions. We feel obliged to behave towards others as they behave towards us. In your situation, when you are blamed, better yet, before you are blamed, take it onto yourself by saying: "It's all my fault! I should've turned on the alarm," or offer something else you could have done. The more you blame yourself, the less the others will blame you. In return, they'll take more responsibilities for the incident. It doesn't matter what you offer as "should-haves,” and whether they make sense as good solutions, it's the attitude that counts. Next time when you are in the situation, don't forget to say the magic words: "It's all my fault!"

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