Blaming may feel good in the moment, but the effects can be disastrous. Even if you feel angry at your partner, it doesn’t mean that your words should be harsh or critical. In fact, in order to get your message across, it’s vital to avoid blaming via criticism or contempt. While expressing anger or blame can get your point across, it will also erode your intimate bond.
If you attack with criticism, your partner will likely become defensive and blame you right back. They may also get flooded and be unable to focus on the discussion and cause it to escalate.
Conversations like this eventually create emotional distance because the more critical and contemptuous you are, the more you will chip away at your friendship. Choosing your words and emotions with care is not easy. It takes practice, but once you start using this approach, it can repair and actually strengthen your bond over time.
So the next time you get angry, stop and think about why you’re angry. Is it because you’re embarrassed? Worried? Feeling alone and/or rejected? Tell your partner what you feel and what you need. Learning to recognize when anger isn’t really what you’re feeling is a skill used by emotionally intelligent couples (John Gottman).
For example, this is how Ruth feels after her husband bailed on their date night?
I’m so angry at you. You always cancel on me to meet up with your friends. You make me feel so small and unimportant.
The key emotion here is feeling unimportant. Once she identifies this, she can communicate in such a way that her partner can understand her.
Ruth: Is this a good time to talk about something that’s been on my mind? STEVE: It is.
Ruth: I feel unimportant when we make plans and you cancel them. I am sure you don’t mean to make me feel that way. Can we make time this week to do something together?
By focusing on your feelings beneath the anger, you welcome your partner to offer empathy and make a repair instead of becoming defensive. Instead of starting a fight, you’re starting a respectful dialogue about your feelings. You are also asking your partner to be on your team.
Couples who understand that respect, kindness, and love are more effective than harshness and criticism are what Dr. John Gottman calls The Masters of Relationships.