In marital conflict, spouses often point at the other in an attempt to blame the situation on the other. Rarely do they see themselves as playing an important part in the demise. In a pious attempt to appear humble they may admit, “I know I’m not perfect.” Yet upon hearing them blame their partner you might wonder if they really believed that. It is clear that at some primitive level we often have difficulty owning our own dysfunction.
When marital conflict escalates it often empties us out or as some put it, it empties our own emotional tank. Most have no idea how to constructively fill that up. Since we are addicted to portraying ourselves in the best light, we often resort to “flesh polishing” in an attempt to get refilled.
So what is “flesh polishing?” This is where we try to make ourselves look better or play the victim so that on the outside (the flesh part) we look innocent. Yet if it takes two to build a marriage, it also takes two to un-build it. Rarely is marital conflict a result of just one spouse’s inappropriate behavior.
When we flesh polish we often point fingers in an attempt to make the other totally responsible for the problem(s). Our personal emptiness causes what would seem like a reflexive response of blaming.
Such a move rarely affects a humble hearing by the spouse receiving the blame. In fact they often feel they must defend. Again that desire to escape acknowledging our own dysfunction kicks in. Even if the blaming information could be attested as valid and true by a panel of Supreme Court justices, one would often feel the need to defend.
The issue clearly becomes not the validity of the blameful info but how that information is shared.
I often find that blaming is a rather awkward way of inviting your spouse to fill your tank. It is like the little boy who has a crush on the girl who sits in front of him in class. He doesn’t know how to express that very well and is afraid of what might happen if he did. So he communicates this attraction by doing things that someone older would see as sabotaging and not inviting. Maybe he will trip her on the playground or put her pony tail in the proverbial ink well. He is desperately trying to gain her attention but does so in ways that cause her to separate rather than draw closer. I often wonder if this is not the same mechanism a spouse employs when they use caustic blaming. Not recognizing how empty they feel and how much they ache for intimacy, they resort to behavior that actually sabotages that goal, just like the little boy does.
Blaming can also indicate attention getting. A spouse resorts to blaming in an effort to gain some kind of attention. Perhaps they feel ignored or their spouse is passive aggressive and quietly broods. Attention, even if it is acidic is better than no attention at all. Some couples are kept together simply by the mere fact of arguing.
No matter how you look at it though, one spouse is really trying to attempt to connect; inappropriately albeit. For the therapist it can sometimes seem hopeless when they witness such angry blaming, but one should actually be encouraged because it is a clear sign that both are still willing to work at improving their situation. The important needed shift is to move away from the list of blame and move into discussing what is needed. It is always better to dwell on the solution than dwell on the problem.