Overcome Blame-Shifting Habits: The Path to a Responsible and Fulfilling Relationship19 min read

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Almost everyone did this as kids: Pointing at siblings or friends as the reason for breaking dishes or misplacing books, to avoid getting in trouble.

Sadly, for many people, not much has changed as adults, including in romantic relationships. They dread admitting when they’re wrong. This could be, to save face. Other times, it’s a sneaky move to emotionally hurt their partner (which doesn’t lead to anything good).

Blame-shifting is a toxic habit that can harm your relationship. So, what can you do instead? That’s what this article is all about. 

But first off, let’s get a deeper understanding of what blame shifting is:

What is Blame Shifting?

Blame-shifting is an abusive, toxic, and unhelpful behavioural pattern or tactic where someone avoids taking responsibility for their mistakes, failures or hurtful behaviour by deflecting the blame onto someone or something else. 

Unlike gaslighting, where the perpetrator makes their partner question their own experiences and memories by vehemently denying what happened, in blame-shifting the perpetrator acknowledges what happened but intentionally dodges responsibility by pinning the blame or fault for the action onto someone or something else.

People often blame-shift because of their inability or unwillingness to face uncomfortable feelings,  like shame, guilt, inadequacy, or vulnerability that can arise from admitting fault. Or they do it out of fear of the consequences – which can be financial, physical, or otherwise. 

Rather than owning up to the wrong, they engage in denial and finger-pointing. They externalise the cause of the issue onto their partner, friend, or another external factor – everyone is the problem but them.

Common blame-shifting tactics include:

If you find yourself doing any of the following, you might actually be a “blame-shifter”

  • Countering accusations with allegations against your partner (“I may have forgotten, but you never remind me!”, “Yes, I come home late, but you’re always on your phone when I’m here.”, “I spent too much money this month, but you waste money on unnecessary things too.”)
  • Minimising your action, while magnifying the other person’s response (“It’s not that big of a deal that I was late. Why are you overreacting?”, “Forgetting your birthday isn’t that bad, you’re acting so dramatic.”, “I just had one drink after work, you don’t need to blow up about it.”)
  • Outright denial, while playing dumb (“I didn’t leave the lights on. I don’t know who did”, “The room was clean when I left, I’m not sure how it got so messy.”, “I didn’t eat the last piece of meat, it must have been the kids.”)
  • Playing the victim (“You’re always criticising me”, “It’s like I can never do anything right in your eyes.”, “You make me feel so small and worthless all the time.”)

And so on.

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Effects Of Blame-Shifting In Relationships 

Blame-shifting erodes peace, trust, and intimacy, and fosters defensiveness, mistrust, and resentment. It replaces honest communication with finger-pointing arguments, leaving partners feeling attacked and unloved. It undermines the emotional bond between partners.

For the victim, constantly being blamed for things you didn’t do is emotionally draining. It shapes your outlook and makes you wary of being held responsible for every mistake, which hampers your ability to connect with your partner.

Furthermore, if you frequently shift blame to others you might be seen as a competitor. It creates a dynamic where both of you focus more on winning credits or avoiding blame rather than a partnership where mistakes and issues can be addressed to nurture a healthy, stronger relationship. 

This perception or dynamic leads to isolation and mistrust, forming a vicious cycle where you’re less likely to support or advocate for each other. This behaviour ultimately robs both parties of the benefits of a committed relationship.

Reasons You Might Blame Your Partner In A Relationship  

Unlike kids who finger-point to avoid getting whipped, here are some reasons you may shift blame to your partner; 

Responsibility Bias 

The responsibility bias refers to the proclivity to overestimate our own contributions and decision-making roles compared to others.

In relationships, this manifests as an inflated sense of importance that breeds blame-shifting when things don’t align with our preferences.

For example, let’s say you decide on dinner over a movie night, simply because you’re craving a good meal. Due to responsibility bias, you might believe this choice is fair solely because it came from you. However, if your partner feels left out or dislikes the dinner plans, this bias can trick you into blaming them instead of acknowledging your role. You might say, “The dinner wasn’t fun because you kept mentioning wanting to watch a movie.” This deflects blame for your partner’s disappointment and creates an unfair dynamic..

The responsibility bias makes us focus on ourselves and our own priorities. Blaming then becomes an easy way to avoid admitting we’re wrong when our decisions don’t make both of us happy.

Self-righteousness 

Self-righteousness is the belief that you’re always right, good, and never at fault. And since you really want to keep believing you’re always right, you likely blame your partner or outside factors instead of yourself for unfavourable outcomes because it helps you avoid facing your faults and preserves your self-image intact.

For instance; 

You have strict moral standards, especially around money, that you believe are righteous. When your partner wants to make a large purchase, you chide them as irresponsible. “I’m just being smart and responsible. You’ll thank me,” you say self-assuredly, unable to validate their perspective, even when it is a necessary purchase.

You firmly believe that your ultra-frugal lifestyle is morally superior, and you consistently blame your partner for not meeting your self-righteous standards when it comes to managing money. 

When you argue, you end up pointing fingers and you never admit you might be wrong. You always think it’s your partner’s problem to fix, and you don’t listen to their needs because you’re so sure your way is the only right way.

Self-serving bias

When we credit ourselves for good things and blame others or outside factors for bad things we have a self-serving bias. 

In relationships, this can lead to a habit of shifting blame away from ourselves. When everything’s going well, we take all the credit, saying things like “They’re happy because I’m such a great partner.” But when problems come up, you quickly point fingers elsewhere instead of looking at your own actions.

This blaming game stops you from admitting your mistakes or trying to fix problems together. You convince yourself that any problems are their fault or because of things beyond your control.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness is like a shield our ego puts up to protect itself. When we feel uncomfortable about being in the wrong, our instinct is to deflect blame onto others as a way to protect ourselves.

In romantic relationships, when we only talk about and consider issues only in terms of how they affect us or make us look, we get defensive and may start blaming our partner instead of listening to the issue our partner is trying to point out. 

This attitude makes it hard to deal with the original problem in a helpful way. The conversation turns into arguing and blaming shifting, making it impossible to understand each other or fix things.

Defensiveness erects impenetrable walls. Cuts you off from opportunities for self-reflection, growth, and intimate connection. The driving need to be “right” at all costs eclipses vulnerability and responsibility. Relationships become battlegrounds of pride rather than safe spaces for authentic communication.

Need for control

Blaming your partner and constantly finding faults in their actions can be a way to control them, rather than working together to find a middle ground when there are differences.

For example, if you enjoy quieter nights at home while your partner prefers going out, you might try to control them by saying things like, “You never want to stay in with me anymore”, “You only think about going out with friends!”, “It’s always expensive nights out”, “You never consider I’m tired and want a quiet evening”, “We never do the things I enjoy, and frankly, it makes me wonder if you even have fun with me anymore.”, and so on.

By doing this, you make yourself appear as the good guy, while your partner is neglecting quality time together, being inconsiderate of their needs, causing financial strain, lacking interest in shared activities, or probably cheating due to their active social life. But really, it’s all about control. You want things to go your way even though you’re the one who needs to work on your social life

This attitude makes the relationship toxic (yes, you’re toxic for being controlling). And, it will only end up pushing your partners away.

Fundamental attribution error

We tend to judge someone based on their actions, without considering the situation they’re in. This bias can lead to unfair criticism and finger-pointing. 

In relationships, it manifests when we focus only on our partner’s negative actions, ignoring their good qualities and the reasons behind their behaviour. This harsh judgement diminishes understanding and compassion.

For example, if your partner struggles to get things done, you might call them “lazy” without thinking about why they are struggling. It could be that they don’t have the tools, knowledge, experience or support they need to succeed. By only focusing on their supposed laziness, you attack, neglect and hurt instead of helping them.

This narrow-minded approach can demotivate and even annoy your partner, creating emotional and physical distance between you.

Projection

When we haven’t dealt with our insecurities, we tend to blame our partners instead of looking at ourselves honestly. We (unconsciously) push our issues onto them to avoid facing our own problems.

For example, if you’re insecure about being faithful, you might get really jealous and accuse your partner of flirting or cheating, even if there’s no real proof. This blaming protects or distracts you from facing or admitting you’re the one struggling with staying faithful. (This is true even if you haven’t cheated but are only harbouring the thought)

Instead of seeing them as their own person, you see them through your own insecurities and desires.

This behaviour comes from not knowing yourself well and not wanting to face your flaws. You put your worries onto your partner, twisting how you see their actions.

Now, do you put your boots on the neck of the problem? How do you end blame-shifting in your relationships? 

How to End Blame Shifting In Your Relationship

Treat your relationship like a science project

Instead of blaming each other when things go wrong, understand that just like in science, accidents and mistakes will happen, and that’s okay.

Choose curiosity over blame: Approach problems with curiosity. Ask your partner  questions like, “What went wrong?” and “How can we fix it?”

Treat every challenge as a learning opportunity. Identify what didn’t work, discuss, and brainstorm together on how to improve it next time. Implement the changes you discussed and observe the results. If it doesn’t work, iterate and try again. 

By approaching your relationship with this mindset and taking practical steps, you can minimise the blame game and work together as a team towards a stronger, healthier bond.

Validate your partner’s efforts 

Validation and appreciation go a long way. If we don’t feel seen and appreciated for what we’re putting into the relationship, small frustrations can turn into big resentments over time.

When your partner feels they are being recognised and valued, it builds goodwill and a supportive environment. It prevents resentment from building up.

Appreciate your partner, and they are motivated.

Recognise their efforts and they are pumped to keep trying.

Your acknowledgement nourishes their spirit.

Just like the water cycle: praise leads to effort, and effort leads to more praise.

Some ways to put this into practice:

  • Thank them for doing chores without being nagged; “Thanks for helping out with laundry. That was sweet.” 
  • Note when they put effort into something important to you; “You stayed up late helping me study for that big exam. That level of support is awesome.” 
  • Call out when they put effort into looking good for a date; “You looked so fresh in that outfit you picked out for our date night. The effort shows.”
  • Appreciate them for making time despite their busy schedules; “With your work, classes, and activities, I know it’s hard to make time. I appreciate you still coming to my games.” 
  • Thank them for small gestures that require thoughtfulness; “You making that playlist with all my favourite songs was such a cool surprise”.
  • Recognise when they put effort into communicating skillfully; “I could tell you put thought into how you brought up that issue with me rather than just blurting it out. Mature moves.”

The blame game is often played by two people stuck in negativity. 

Break that cycle with sincere appreciation and recognition of what is positive.

Express yourself openly, but be considerate.

A long-lasting, healthy relationship depends on self-expression. 

Healthy self-expression is about showing up authentically and allowing yourself to be known at a deeper level.

Bottle up your inner worlds and you create distance and stagnation. Like flowers, we are more pleasant when we open up.

However, you need to say what you mean in a respectful way and share your thoughts without being critical.

When expressing yourself or raising an issue; try to do so without stepping on your partner’s ego, here are some helpful tips with examples:

  • Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory; Instead of saying “You did this wrong,” say “I felt lonely and frustrated when you didn’t answer your call for that long, where were you?”. 
  • Compliment them before raising the issue; “You work so hard at your job. When you come home exhausted, I understand why keeping up with me at night is tough.”
  • Ask questions to understand their perspective first; “What has been making it difficult for you to find time to call home?”.
  • Suggest solutions collaboratively; “What if we made a reading schedule that feels more manageable for both of us?”
  • Recognise your imperfections; “I know I’m not perfect either. Sometimes I forget to flush the toilet closest.” 
  • Appreciate their willingness to work on issues; “Thanks for being open about this. I know we both want to improve.”
  • Use gentle humour to lighten the moment; “School is a black hole, sucking away our free time and energy.”

The key to a safe, blame-free atmosphere?

Express yourself without hurting your partner’s ego.

Approach and discuss issues as a team. 

Work on a problem together, not as a prosecuting lawyer. 

Look for root causes, not scapegoats

When conflicts or issues arise in a relationship, it’s tempting to blame your partner – “You never listen to me!” or “This is your fault, you’re unreliable.” 

However, fixating on finding a scapegoat often escalates tensions and misses opportunities to productively resolve the issues.

Instead, step back and examine the underlying factors that may be contributing to the problems. 

Some things to consider:

  • Is your communication patterns or habits leading to misunderstandings?
  • Are there unmet needs on either side that are not being properly addressed?
  • Are there external stressors like money anxiety, work challenges, family obligations, etc. putting strain on the relationship?
  • Have you fallen into unhealthy dynamics or routines as a couple?
  • Are you settling sky-high expectations about roles and responsibilities?
  • Are there conflicting love languages, personality differences or emotional triggers?

Get to the root cause! Rather than attacking characters,  seek understanding.

For instance, if you’re having tension because of household chores, identify the huddles then renegotiate the division of labour, or seek counselling from someone with experience.

Blaming never fixes problems. Rather, it puts everyone on the defensive.

Attack root causes together. Share the burden and enjoy a shared victory.

Separate intent from impact 

In the heat of a disagreement or conflict, it’s easy to assume that any hurtful actions or negative impacts from your partner were fully intentional. “You did that to upset me on purpose!”. However, making that assumption leads to a never-ending loop of disagreement and resentment.

Alternative move?

Separate your partner’s intent from the impact their actions had on you. 

Recognise that sometimes even with good intentions, people can still mess up and cause negative consequences. 

A few examples:

  • Your partner forgot about a scheduled date night amid a stressful week at work, disappointing you unintentionally. You felt like a moron sitting in that restaurant all alone for hours.
  • During an argument, they said something careless that came out more harshly than they meant.  Perhaps they called you “Dirty”, “Stupid”, “Liar”, or some other harsh thing.
  • They didn’t speak up about an issue right away, hoping it would resolve itself but allowing it to fester. Maybe they took a loan, and you didn’t get to find out about it until the creditors came knocking angrily.

The approach is productive if the well-meaning intent is understood.

Once you have explained your perspective and intention, you can have a calmer dialogue about the impact and why it hurts. As a result, you’ll be able to accept an apology, receive assurance that it won’t happen again, and work together on adjusting your behaviour going forward.

Negative perception escalates conflicts.

Substrate negativity from actions to minimise harm.

Add empathy, understanding, and forgiveness.

Raise the power by solving problems together.

The product? Harmony, honesty, resolution, and stronger bonds.

Take responsibility for your part

Even if your partner seems mainly at fault for an argument or conflict, take responsibility for your role too. Reflect on how you may have escalated tensions through your words, tone or actions. Very few fights are entirely one-sided. By owning your part with humility, you can resolve issues more productively and empathetically, rather than just blaming each other.

A little more self-awareness about our flaws, plus some extra compassion for the shared struggles of being human, could go a long way.

Own your partial responsibility with statements like:

  • “You’re right, I haven’t been as present and attentive as I could be lately.”  
  • “I should have double-checked on those plan details instead of making assumptions.”

Apologise. 

Accept your role in a conflict.

Admit your mistakes, it helps both of you understand each other better.

This doesn’t mean accepting more blame than is warranted. But taking ownership of any legitimate missteps on your part.

Repair your relationship

Once the heat of the issue has passed, it’s important to take intentional steps to clear the air and rebuild closeness, trust, and goodwill. 

Some examples:

After a Fight

  • Approach your lover and sincerely apologise for any hurtful words or actions
  • Reaffirm your love/commitment: “I don’t want anything to come between us”
  • Do an activity you enjoy together to associate new positive memories. Date nights, movies, or make-up sex comes to mind but do whatever the both of you enjoy.

After Drifting Apart 

  • Have an open discussion reestablishing what’s important to each other
  • Renew emotional intimacy by sharing appreciation and vulnerabilities
  • Plan bonding experiences to reconnect – a weekend getaway, cooking together, etc.

After a Betrayal of Trust

  • The person who broke trust should take full accountability without defensiveness. 
  • Set a plan to proactively rebuild trust through complete transparency.
  • Be patient and don’t get discouraged – rebuilding trust takes continual effort over time.

Fixing the problem is just the beginning.

Keep doing things to stop bad feelings from coming back.

It prevents any leftover bad vibes from hurting your relationship later on.

Conclusion: Give your partner the grace you hope to receive from them

We (all) will “F” up in our relationships.

Why? 

We are a blend of everything delightful and dreadful. Nobody’s flawless. You and your partner are going to do or say something that upsets each other from time to time. 

And, like a five-year-old kid who blames his classmate for misplacing his pencil, it’s easy in those moments to point fingers and play the blame game. However, that tactic won’t help your relationship. If you’re still scared of accountability, you need to grow up.

Give your partner the grace you hope to receive from them when you inevitably make a mistake.

Think about how you would want them to treat you if the roles were reversed and you were the one who made a mistake.

You’d probably hope they could see your good intentions, hear you out, and forgive you. You’d want them to remember all the times you did the right thing, instead of fixating on this one slip-up. Extend that same grace and compassion to your partner.

Mutual patience, empathy and accountability create a safe space for honesty, growth and lasting love to bloom.

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