“Who started it?” is a question that plagues us from childhood. Our sense of fairness demands that we get to the source of trouble. But determining who started an argument doesn't resolve the underlying issue.
People often start an argument when there are hidden resentments. Bringing them to light could be considered a good thing—if there is resolution to a disagreement. But often the argument doesn’t address the real problem but ping-pongs from one accusation to another. That is engaging in the Blame Game.
“Why do you always…”
“You make me…”
“You did it on purpose…”
“You’re such a…”
Blaming each other…
*distracts you from resolving the real issue. Don’t go off on a million tangents of blame and past wrong-doing. The problem is not that someone started trouble. The real issue is that there is hidden trouble that is revealing itself in an argument.
*makes you both defensive. When someone blames you, it is natural to defend yourself. Once people put up defenses, nothing—no amount of reasoning—gets through.
*deepens discord. It adds another layer of resentment in your relationship because blaming only denigrates the other person.
How to stop blaming each other
*Be thankful for the person's airing his discontent. Many spouses let their disdain build up and their mates are shocked when they’re served divorce papers years later.
*Do not bring up past wrong-doings, no matter how related they may be to the current conversation.
*Get to the underlying upset. Often, anger is misdirected and it masks deeper truths that we have a hard time discussing.
An example: You’re scheduled to visit your family and he starts an argument about how the car needs a steam-cleaning because you let the kids eat fast food while you’re driving. He rants on about how you don’t feed the kids healthy food, you’re always late so they have to eat on the run, you don’t take care of your own car…until you recognize that his anger isn’t about the spills at all. Instead of “You’re just making up excuses because you don’t want to go to my parents’ house!” ask, “What is the real reason you’re so upset?”
It might take more patient statements to get him to open up. Say, “I’m sorry this is causing us to argue. If I played any part, I’m sorry. But can we focus on the real reason for all these upsetting feelings and find a way to get past them?”
Chances are, the discussion will reveal some deeper unresolved feelings. And instead of denying your spouse’s feelings, accept them because he feels them. Whether you agree or not that he *should* feel them, the fact is that he does indeed feel them.
“We always seem to get into arguments when we visit my parents. Is there a reason why?”
“Your parents never liked me and I hate visiting them because of that.”
Instead of launching into a personal attack about his parents not liking you either or how he caused your parents to dislike him, simply acknowledge his feelings: “I’m sorry you feel that way. It must feel awful.”
Offer a possible explanation and even an insight that he may not have taken into account. “They’ve never expressed to me that they have ill feelings towards you. Could it be that you feel that way because they don’t joke around with you like they do with Nancy’s husband? It could be that they haven’t spent as much time with you and so they aren’t sure if you like them either.”
Get to the resolution: “How can we get past these feelings?”
Offer action plans to solve the underlying problem: “You have options: You don’t have to come with me to visit them but it will only make them feel more distant from you and you won’t be able to develop a more comfortable relationship with them. Or you can come and let me help you both get better acquainted.”
And finally, if neither of the above appeals to him or if his feelings, indeed, are valid, offer a compromise that demonstrates your loyalty is to him first: “What makes our marriage and love work has nothing to do with anyone but us. We don’t need our parents’ approval. If they cannot see that you are the best thing that happened to me, then it is their loss. People often see faults in others when there is some major character lacking in themselves. Let’s not stoop to their level. Let’s go and I’ll be sure to sing your praises and they’ll realize just how lucky I am to have married you.”
Let him know that you understand it’s uncomfortable to feel as though other people are judging you, but he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. If he can just accompany you because you want him there with you, you’ll be sure that if he isn’t treated with respect, you’ll approach your parents about it later and he doesn’t have to come next time. Who can resist that?
Remember that when you married, you vowed to be on the same team. When arguments begin, search for the real problem instead of launching personal attacks or dredging up past offenses. Usually, there is a deep-seated hurt to acknowledge. Once revealed, you can address it and move on with more power in your ability to diffuse emotional arguments.