Over the years, I have been asked what I feel couples struggle with the most in their relationships. Why do couples either make it or not? My response isn’t the typical: Communication, intimacy, connection, parenting, religious beliefs, family, work, or financial issues. My answer:
Lack of personal responsibility in relationships.
In my previous article, Building Trust in Relationships: The Power of Self-Accountability, we focus on trust. Next, we turn our attention to Self-Responsibility. Not taking personal responsibility for feelings, actions, desires, words, mistakes, faults, errors, and even accomplishments create an unstable fragile foundation for a relationship with someone you profess to love and care about.
Having and exhibiting a lack of personal accountability creates a fertile breeding ground for conflict, unhappiness, confusion, misunderstanding, stagnation, emptiness, victimization, gaslighting, loneliness, which proves to be emotionally exhausting and damaging in relationships. Many times, termed, “Pointing the finger at others”.
“Pointing the finger at others” is an idiom that means attributing blame or responsibility for a problem, mistake, or wrongdoing to someone else rather than accepting it oneself. I witness this over and over again in my office. When I do witness this, it is a sure-fire bet that they are essentially shifting the blame or accountability away from themselves and onto someone else. Nothing is ever their fault so everyone in the room needs to wake-up and take notice of this fact. They are professionals at blaming others, gaslighting, and deflecting the attention away from themselves and on to another party who caused the conflict anyway.
We are not explicitly taught by our caregivers to blame others for their actions in most cases, but many times, “the apple does not fall far from the tree” when it comes to self-accountability. It is a learned skill, period. An example here is when Johnny’s teacher disciplines him or he fails a test because he was not prepared, the teacher is “picking on him” or “doesn’t like him” and the child begins the journey of carefully creating his own little world where he is surrounded by villains and individuals who “just don’t understand” or “don’t like him”. If this idea continues, little Johnny grows up, gets married, playing the same sad angry violin, seeking marriage counseling or is a miserable human being.
Blaming others for one’s actions is often a natural human response influenced by various psychological and cognitive factors. However, the extent to which individuals engage in blame-shifting can be influenced by their upbringing, socialization, and the cultural norms and values they are exposed to. Here are some ways in which external factors can influence this behavior:
So, why do individuals not take responsibly in the most important relationship in their life? Their significant other.
- Self-serving bias: These bias leads individuals to attribute positive outcomes to their own abilities and efforts while attributing negative outcomes to external factors or other people. When people want to protect their self-image, they may shift blame onto others to maintain a positive self-concept. These people are never wrong, in their mind.
- Lack of self-awareness: Sometimes, people may not fully understand their own motivations, emotions, or actions. This lack of self-awareness can lead to projecting their own feelings or actions onto others, leading to blame. These people are pros at telling other what they are doing wrong, when they are actually doing the exact same thing.
- Social and cultural influences: Cultural norms and social environments can play a significant role in shaping how people assign blame. In some cultures, taking responsibility for one’s actions is highly valued, while in others, blame-shifting may be more accepted or even encouraged. “What part do you take in this Johnny?” isn’t a well-known concept.
- Avoidance of consequences: Blaming others can be a way to avoid the consequences of one’s actions. If someone can convince others that someone else is at fault, they may hope to escape punishment or negative consequences. Nobody likes a negative consequence but some people will avoid this consequence at all costs. They absolutely sincerely believe they are not at fault and will spend as much time as necessary to convince you that it is all your fault.
- Emotional regulation: Blaming others can be a way for individuals to cope with difficult emotions. By externalizing blame, they may temporarily relieve themselves of guilt or anger. Many people don’t have a clue what true guilt or anger feels like. They are experts at blaming others and this in turn allows them to avoid difficult emotions.
- Lack of empathy: Some individuals may struggle to empathize with others or take their perspective, making it easier to blame them for problems or conflicts. They can’t and have never really stopped long enough to actually think about what their partner might feel. This is a foreign concept for them. To stop and feel how it must feel being in the others shoes.
Over the last 25 plus years, I have witnessed and observed countless people where nothing is their fault. They can’t own their own actions, words, faults, and mistakes…much less apologize for them. They are never wrong. Others “make” them react in negative ways, they eloquently describe each of their partners faults, misdoings, ill intentions, and how they were wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.
It is like pulling teeth without numbing to get them to even try for a split second to see their part in the conflict, miserable relationship, empty unfulfilling life, or their own loneliness. These people are quick to share what others have done to them or how they have been neglected but when it comes to owning their own crap, they are not having it.
Let’s get real here. When individuals in a relationship lack self-accountability, it will lead to various challenges and negative outcomes for both partners. It can be a never-ending cycle of dysfunction in the relationship. Even the most patient, loving, giving partners will slowly but surely start shutting down and eventually get tired of having to be the one who is constantly taking the blame, being criticized for what they have done or not done, or trying to make their significant other happy. It is extremely rare that I see both partners exhibit a healthy idea regarding self-accountability. If so, they would not be sitting in my office. There is normally one partner that has no concept of anything ever being their fault and takes the “victim” role. The other, has been carefully awarded the “villain” role, causing all of the conflict, misunderstanding or turmoil in the relationship.
Here are some of the common issues that may arise in a relationship when one or both individuals struggle with self-accountability:
- Blame and Conflict: Without self-accountability, it becomes easier for partners to blame each other for problems and conflicts within the relationship. This can create a cycle of arguments, resentment, and unresolved issues. Tit for tat….it is always quite entertaining to observe. Both partners are saying the same thing in different ways.
- Lack of Trust: Yes, trust! Self-accountability is essential for building and maintaining trust in a relationship. When one or both partners consistently avoid taking responsibility for their actions, trust will erode over time. This means it is inevitable that the partner who can’t take responsibility for their own actions will portray they are unable to be transparent, trustworthy, authentic, unconditional, and responsible. Trust is essential for the health and stability of a relationship, and when it is compromised, it can lead to emotional distance, conflicts, and ultimately, the deterioration of the relationship. Rebuilding trust often requires open communication, self-awareness, apologies, and a commitment to addressing and improving accountability issues within the relationship.
- Communication Breakdown: Effective communication relies on both partners being open, honest, and accountable for their words and actions. A lack of self-accountability can hinder meaningful and productive communication, leading to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. When not accepting accountability, the other partner will learn their role in the relationship is to take the blame, take directives, and fix the problem. This can lead to martyrium!
- Emotional Distance: As blame and conflict escalate, emotional distance can grow between partners. They may withdraw from each other as a way to avoid confrontation or protect themselves from hurtful behaviors. The partner who tends to take the blame has now become a martyr. A martyr that has finally gotten tired of trying to fix something that is not their entire fault.
- Resentment: A pattern of one partner consistently avoiding responsibility can lead to feelings of resentment in the other partner. This resentment can poison the relationship and make it difficult to work through issues. Resentment will gradually wedge itself between the two partners. When it is evident, it destroys the relationship.
- Stagnation: Relationships require growth and adaptation over time. Without self-accountability, personal and relational growth may stagnate, as neither partner is willing to acknowledge their contributions to problems or work on solutions. Partners may stay together but neither are fulfilled, content, or truly happy. They are comfortable being comfortable in the dysfunction.
- Unresolved Issues: Self-accountability is crucial for resolving conflicts and addressing issues within a relationship. When one or both partners avoid responsibility, problems may linger, potentially becoming more significant over time. The elephant in the middle of the room has now taken over the home without any conversation about why his fat ass is even there.
- Emotional Impact: The emotional impact of a lack of self-accountability can be significant, leading to feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and hopelessness for both partners. This is called living a okay life being in a miserable relationship, but at least it is familiar so you stay just how it is.
- Relationship Instability: In extreme cases, a consistent lack of self-accountability can lead to the breakdown of the relationship, as partners may feel unable to trust, communicate, or work together effectively. As I said before, people do and will get tired of always being the bad guy. They generally shut down and vacate emotionally, become passive aggressive, and check out. This is different in each situation. Some stay and some go, but the relationship is lifeless, loveless, and vacant. I have heard individuals say, “I am numb” “I am done” “I just don’t care anymore”
Several factors can contribute to people not owning their issues or their part in conflicts. Understanding these factors can shed light on why some individuals struggle with accountability in interpersonal conflicts. Here are some common reasons:
- Ego and pride: Some people find it difficult to admit they are wrong or have made a mistake because they want to protect their ego and pride. They may fear that admitting fault makes them appear weak or inadequate. Ego can act as if it is a slow growing cancer in a relationship with a partner.
- Fear of consequences: Individuals may be afraid of the consequences that come with taking responsibility for their actions. This could include facing criticism, punishment, or negative reactions from others. They can’t and don’t want to hear anything that they deem as a negative reaction from others because if they do, they might be forced to examine themselves.
- Defensive mechanisms: People often use defense mechanisms, such as denial or rationalization, to protect themselves from discomfort or guilt. These mechanisms can prevent them from acknowledging their role in conflicts. These people can talk…so much that they will eventually wear you down and you may even agree with them.
- Lack of self-awareness: Some individuals may lack self-awareness and insight into their own behavior. They may not realize or understand their contribution to conflicts because they haven’t reflected on their actions or emotions. They have never had to own their stuff, generally beginning in childhood.
- Blame-shifting: People might engage in blame-shifting by redirecting fault onto others to avoid taking responsibility themselves. This can be a way to protect their self-esteem and avoid feelings of guilt. They are expert justifiers. They shift the entire conversation to what you have done wrong and many times, you actually buy it.
- Communication skills: Poor communication skills can hinder an individual’s ability to express themselves effectively or to understand the perspectives of others. This can make it challenging to engage in open and constructive conversations about conflicts. Communication takes effort, practice, and the desire to understand what one can do to improve the relationship. Old habits die hard.
- Childhood experiences: Past experiences, particularly in childhood, can shape how individuals approach conflicts. Those who grew up in environments where accountability was not emphasized, taught, or modeled will struggle with it in adulthood.
- Relationship dynamics: The dynamics within a relationship can influence how accountability is handled. For example, if one partner consistently avoids taking responsibility, it can create a pattern where the other partner enables or tolerates this behavior. For some, it is easier to go with the flow than to address, confront, and work on the issue.
- Emotional factors: Emotions such as shame, guilt, or fear can make it difficult for people to admit fault or take responsibility. These emotions can be overwhelming and lead to avoidance. They have not been taught to acknowledge the feelings of shame, guilt, or fear. These emotions are not allowed nor do they know how to feel the feeling.
- Perceived threat to self-esteem: People may perceive admitting fault as a threat to their self-esteem and self-worth. They may believe that acknowledging their mistakes makes them less valuable or lovable. Weakness and vulnerability are seen as an open door to pain and suffering.
Dealing with self-responsibility can be difficult and overwhelming but you are not alone! If you are struggling right now, let’s talk. You can book an in-person or virtual visit.
Email or call anytime to schedule an in-person or virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | email@example.com