Taking Sides: What if it IS (Mostly) Their Fault?Jan 18, 2023
If you’ve been following our work at all, you know that we at PowerfuLove are all about owning our sh*t– taking personal responsibility and accountability for our experiences and for creating new ones. Empowered Accountability, which is the foundational skill we teach and the lens through which we understand relationship problems and their resolution, is grounded in these ideas. But how does that look when one’s partner really does carry more (or even most) of the blame for what’s not working?
I read an article the other day by a very successful couples therapist, Terry Real, who described a session in which he identified that one partner carried more, or even most, of the responsibility for a conflict that he and his wife had had. Real breaks a “cardinal rule” of therapy by taking sides– by identifying one partner as being at fault for the problem they were addressing. Delivered with skill and compassion, it was a necessary invitation to accountability for that partner, and it was a game changer for the couple.
But it got me thinking, “How would this look through an Empowered Accountability lens?”
Is it all their fault?
One of the first things that came to mind as I reflected on the above question was that, while Real made a great case for how one partner certainly did carry most of the responsibility for the problem, it didn’t mean that the other partner carried none.
To be honest, it’s hard to think of any scenario where one person is entirely at fault for any given situation. Within relationships, we are always interacting with one another. Your reactions or responses are based upon the reactions or responses of your partner, but theirs are a response to you. We’re in a never-ending feedback loop with one another, which makes it hard to really pin down where it started, or who’s to blame.
On top of that, MOST of each person’s reactions is based upon their own internal “stuff.” This “stuff” is a combination of that person’s unique history of other relationship experiences, their nervous system, their mindset, their fears, their capacity, their beliefs, and so on, which create the lens through which they interpret the current situation.
It’s called the 90/10 rule. It’s the acknowledgement that 90% of a person's response to a given situation is about them (their “stuff”) and only 10% is actually about the situation. (This goes for you, too!) This “stuff” is the “sh*t” we invite our couples to become aware of and learn how to powerfully work with, by the way.
That said, we are ALL personally responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and reactions. People are notorious for shirking off this responsibility, claiming that “I wouldn’t have acted that way if you hadn’t…” Or “If you would have treated me better, I wouldn’t be…” Hey, we get it. We’ve been there too, but this denial of personal responsibility is not only damaging to the relationship, it can become a slippery slope into stuck patterns, harmful power dynamics, and victim blaming. No one can make you do anything.
The problem with blame
Let’s be clear, it’s probably rare that partner responsibility for a problem or struggle is genuinely 50/50. Sometimes it’s 70/30, other times maybe even 90/10. But how do you determine how much blame or responsibility your partner has, as compared to you? The short answer: You don’t.
The truth is, pointing fingers is never helpful. Telling someone it’s their fault, or even mostly their fault, puts you on that slippery slope of denying personal responsibility. If you’re trying to figure out how much to blame your partner, you’re looking in the wrong direction. Likewise, it’s not helpful to sack all of the blame onto your own shoulders, even if you recognize that you carry more (or most) of the responsibility.
Here’s the problem with blame: It gives away your power to be a part of the solution, and it moves you into defensive positions against one another. You see, the energy of blame is judgement, and whenever we direct judgement toward another person (including ourselves), we step out of love and connection and into fear and disconnection.
Your true power lies in turning inward to look at your own part in the problem and how you can be a part of the solution. The way we see it, practicing accountability is a critical way of being a part of any solution.
Holding someone accountable
Accountability recognizes both the responsibility in and the need to account for (explain) something that has happened. It is a recognition of one’s role in the problems and pain within a relationship. Accountability is an energy of truth-telling, ownership, and acknowledgement.
We believe that holding someone accountable (including one’s self) is an act of love. It is not done so with judgement or blame, but of honest recognition and the gifted opportunity to take ownership, learn, and do better. Perhaps the reason that the husband in the article I read was able to receive the call-in from his therapist was because his therapist wasn’t blaming him. The therapist was holding that client accountable, and doing so was a necessary step in resolving that couple’s problems.
As I mentioned, you too can participate in being part of the solution to problems in your relationship by practicing accountability. This means doing the work of holding yourself accountable, and also having the strength and courage to hold your partner accountable.
Holding your partner accountable means naming the ways that their words, behaviors, or choices have impacted you and your relationship. It means setting boundaries for yourself that let your partner know what you will or won’t accept. It also means loving yourself enough to not minimize, justify, or ignore behaviors that are hurting or dishonoring you.
Practicing Accountability takes courage, love, awareness, and a fair bit of skill. It’s not always easy to do, and it’s common for partners to react defensively. You see, no one likes being called on their sh*t. It’s one thing to identify and own it yourself, but it’s quite another to have someone else name it for you.
Calling someone in on their shit risks rocking the boat, pissing someone off, and potentially creating more pain and struggle in your relationship. Even for “expert” helpers, this can be hard to do! In the article I read, the couple had gone to see several couples therapists before finding one who would actually take the risk of holding one partner to a greater degree of accountability for their problems than the other.
Know that, if you struggle with holding your partner (or yourself) accountable to things, you’re not alone. And if you want support, it is out there. After all, we’re here… and accountability is kind of our jam! When we work with couples, we let them know upfront that part of our job is helping each of them to identify, own, and more consciously and lovingly navigate their part in what’s not working. And when each person is supported with looking at their own stuff and empowered to show up better in their relationship, amazing healing and change can happen.
If you’d like support with transforming your relationship through the practice of empowered accountability, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d love to see if we can help! Contact us at [email protected] or schedule a FREE 90 minute relationship empowerment call here.
If you’d like to explore working with us in our Be the One relationship coaching program, make sure to schedule your FREE 90 minute Relationship Empowerment call!
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