Keeping Marriage Alive: No gain in blame

Published 1:33 pm Saturday, August 14, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the third of a five-part series in keeping the life in our intimate relationships.

For any of us it seems, it’s easier to see the shortcomings in our mate than to see our own. We can be very quick to cite our disappointment in something our partner has said or done, believing it is their behavior that produces our dissatisfaction. This, however, is a myth.

David Larson

When we were first in love, we may have seen the other person as the one who was “making us happy.” It would be more accurate to say it was the other person who helped us see the beauty already present in ourselves. If we believe that it was our partner who “made us happy,” then we will tend to see our partner as the one who makes us sad. This is what is referred to as “co-dependency.”

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In a co-dependent relationship, we think life satisfaction comes from someone outside ourselves. Our expectations are high for the other person to be sensitive to our feelings, to stop drinking, to put their clothes away, to cut back on using the charge card, to respond to our sexual desires, and so on. If they don’t, we get mad, resentful, hurt, depressed even.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting things. In fact, it’s important to know what we want and to ask for what we want. The rub comes when our wants become expectations for the other person to fulfill.

Herein lies a key distinction. It is important we are clear about what we want, and request, but do not demand our spouse be the one to fill this longing.

If I need help with the dishes, it’s important for me to ask. Not demand, not criticize, not complain. This is taking personal responsibility. If I need more help with the kids, I sit down with my partner and we talk through a plan that acknowledges the needs and desires of both partners. We negotiate to a “win-win” solution. This is taking personal responsibility. If my partner does not respond to my requests, I share my feelings about it, not scold, not yell, not blame.

If my partner continues to ignore my requests, I ask myself why I put up with such insensitivity. I put the focus on me. I return to acknowledge what my partner helped me see in the beginning — my worthiness of respect. Instead of expecting something from someone who does not want to give it, I take responsibility to give it to myself — I respect me. I call a friend to vent; I journal in my diary; I get support elsewhere. If this is still not working, I get counseling and keep reaching for a better life.

By taking responsibility to do my part in a respectful way, I sidestep the frustration and blame, and create the space for romance to flourish.

Action step: Today, I will re-think how directly I ask for what I want in my relationship. Do I use a whiney voice? An angry one? Is there judgment in my words or tone? How can I clean it up? Am I willing to meet my mate in the eyes and let my feelings be known, expecting a positive response?

Today, I will tell my partner how meaningful our relationship is to me, and why it’s important for me to be heard. I am willing to listen back. I negotiate and compromise. I don’t complain … I explain. I believe in a positive outcome. It’s very likely my mate wants a happy marriage, too. How can I appeal to that side of him or her to instill more cooperation? In short, what will I do to take care of myself in my marriage today?

David Larson, licensed psychologist, is a counselor and life enrichment coach. He can be reached at the Institute For Wellness, 507-373-7913, or at his website,