Gal Szekely, founder of The Couples Center was interviewed about how to stop the blame game with your partner. For the original article click here.

Do you frequently play the blame game with your spouse?
Would you like to stop the blame game but are unsure on how to go about in doing so?

To help understand how a married couple gets wrapped up in the blame game and what you can do to stop the blame game with your spouse, I have interviewed therapist Gal Szekely.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

“I’m a marriage and couples counselor in San Francisco and founder of The Couples Center. I hold a Masters degree in Integral Counseling Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and a Masters in Social Psychology from Tel-Aviv University in Israel. Before becoming a therapist, I worked as a marketing manager in Hi Tech companies and later as a management consultant and coach. I grew up in Israel and so I’m bi-lingual (Hebrew & English) and have sensitivity for cultural differences and the way they play out in relationships.

My work combines psychotherapy, life coaching, and spiritual guidance. It’s also influenced by mindfulness meditation and a deep understanding of the body-mind connection (influenced by Somatic Psychology). I’m married and my relationship with my wife is a source of inspiration for my work with couples.”

How does a married couple get wrapped up in the blame game?

“First of all, it’s important for every couple to understand that conflict is a natural and healthy part of every relationship. Each one of us has different needs and preferences and those differences create conflict. When we successfully resolve conflict we actually feel closer to our partner. Yet many couples are not able to resolve fundamental issues between them and then conflict intensifies. They find themselves fighting with each other over the same things again and again. Many times couples have told me that they are so used to having the same arguments that they can predict what each one of them will say and how the fight will turn out. When that happens, each partner usually thinks, “If only my partner will change. If only they will be more understanding, loving, flexible, responsible etc, than our relationship will be much better”. Meaning, each partner thinks that the other person is to blame. They get upset at the other for not being or behaving in the way that they expect and they point the finger towards the other person.

What couples usually don’t know is that we all have the unconscious fantasy that our partner will fulfill our needs. This belief is a big part of the magic we feel when we first fall in love. Our partner seems to be that perfect guy or girl that will complete us and make us feel whole. We unconsciously hope that they are the person that we want them to be. We are usually not aware that we have those needs and we definitely don’t communicate them directly. Our partner cannot read our mind or anticipate our needs and so they sometimes behave in a way that matches are expectations and other times not. While in the early stages of a relationship we are willing to overlook those incidents where our needs are not being met, overtime we get more and more discouraged and hurt and we start to blame our partners for not being the way we want them to be. We try to change them through feedback and criticism, but that usually creates defensiveness on their part and they in return tell us how we are the ones who need to change. Eventually each partner is convinced that the other needs to change and they get stuck trying to convince each other of that.”

What type of impact can the blame game have on their marriage?

“Blaming our partner causes defensiveness on their part, and they can either defend themselves by fighting back or withdraw and not communicate. Either way, couples end up feeling more distant from each other and less and less able to bridge that gap. When you criticize and blame your partner it’s like you are withdrawing money from the bank of the relationship. At a certain point the money runs out. Partners become annoyed at the smallest things or start to avoid each other. They might experience stress and difficulty in sleeping or concentrating. They will have an unsatisfying sex life and might start looking elsewhere for love and affection and end up having an affair. Too often I see couples seeking professional help only when things are already quite difficult between them and harder to fix.”

How can a married couple stop the blame game?

“The most important thing that needs to happen is a shift in our thinking. When we are caught in the blame game we are all the time busy pointing out what’s wrong about our partner and how they need to change. We don’t realize our responsibility for the things that go wrong, and we underestimate our ability to change the situation by changing ourselves. Instead, both partners need to ask themselves, “Why is my partner’s behavior or characteristics so annoying to me? What are my real needs and why am I so frustrated when my partner is not able to fulfill them? Did I ever communicate these needs directly?” Each partner needs to focus on what they can really change about themselves. Instead of thinking “I feel unsatisfied in this relationship so you have to change” they need to start thinking “we have a problem, so how can I change the way I approach it?” This attitude change fosters deeper personal reflection more responsibility on each partner’s side.”

What type of professional help is available for a married couple that has a hard time stopping the blame game?

“It’s important to understand that seeking professional help is normal and natural to do. When we grow up we rarely learn about relationships. Somehow we are expected to know how to maintain a long-term passionate and intimate relationship without ever receiving guidance about it. This is a complex task that requires skills and knowledge. Couples can start by reading books on relationship and marriage. There is also a lot information online on different websites and forums. However, the best way to get help is to work with a trained professional, since they will be able to give you an objective perspective on how things get difficult between you and what you can do about it.  You are welcome to check out Berkeley couples counseling or Palo Alto couples therapists, or any of our other locations based on your area.