Blame, or power?

May 24, 2011

in Good Marriage, Spicy Quote

Car crash © Kokandr | Dreamstime.com

“When you blame others, you give up the power to change.” ~ Douglas Adams

I love this quote that a friend sent me today. (I’m not sure Adams was the first to say it, but he did say it.)

I learned this lesson in my early 20’s when I was in an auto accident. I was the first car at a red light. I was in the far left lane of a one-way road that crossed another one-way road, with traffic coming from my left. The light turned green, and being young and always in a hurry, I hit the gas. As I entered the intersection I saw a car coming towards me on the left, and realised it was going to run the light. I hit the brakes, and came to stop. The driver of the other car braked, but rather than swerving, covered her eyes with both of her hands (I kid you not) and left her hands over her eyes until she came to a stop – against my car. Damage was significant, although I was able to drive it. The insurance company classified it as totalled.

There is no question the woman in the other car caused the accident. She was ticketed, and her insurance paid for my car. She was “to blame”. However, I realised that I could have easily avoided the accident by taking a second to see if anyone was going to run the light. Given that I lived in a city where a yellow light meant “speed up” and red meant “floor it,” such a check was a wise thing to do. While I did not cause the accident, I could easily have prevented it, and in my mind that made me partly at fault.

Yes, I know some will argue with me, but that is how I saw it, nor is it how I tend to see life. As the quote at the top of the page says, by accepting that I had a part in what happened, I gave myself the power to prevent the same thing from happening again. I became much slower on the gas when a light turned green, and on several occasions that has kept me from being hit.

I have done the same thing in my marriage – always looking for places where I can avoid a problem in the future. To do that I have to stop looking for ways to blame my bride; I can focus either on blaming her or on finding things to change that will avoid the same thing in the future. I cannot focus on both; I can do both, but I won’t do either as well as if I focused on one thing. I don’t want to give up the power to change, so I gladly give up blaming.

Image Credit: © Kokandr | Dreamstime.com

19 comments
John Delcamp
John Delcamp

I was not going to respond because of what happend when I responded a few days ago, but suddenly I realized this was a perfect example of what Paul is saying. While the reaction to my post was not my fault, I did make the post and therefore, I certainly can not blame anyone else for the reaction except myself. If I would have responded differently, then the reaction would have been different.

Lesli Doares
Lesli Doares

As a woman, a wife of 25 years (yesterday) and a marriage therapist, I come at this from a different perspective. Much of the confusion stems from the very different way men and women approach life. If things are going okay for a man, he might assume things are fine with his wife. Women, misguidedly, often believe they should not have to ask for what they want. You can see how this can create problems in a relationship. Also, women can be very indirect and round about when bringing up issues. Men often fail to see the nuance in what is being said. This is a problem that both have a hand in. It isn't about blame but about ownership and responsibility. Men assume that if their wives aren't actively complaining, everything is fine. Women get frustrated they aren't being heard, the problem goes underground as they make plans to leave. It resurfaces when the woman is ready to go. It is at this point, the husband "gets it", realizes the marriage is in trouble and seeks outside help. By then, it is often too late. We do a horrible job teaching people about how relationships work and this is what Paul, myself, and many others are trying to do before problems become critical. It's like waiting until cancer reaches Stage 4 to treat it instead of catching it early. The treatment is difficult, painful, and sometimes unsuccessful. Both husbands and wives can do better, but only if they are willing to learn how and take responsibility to be the best spouses they can be. Because your partner may not be doing the right things doesn't let you off the hook for honoring your vows. This is the point Paul is trying to make, and he makes it well.

Rob
Rob

To the core of the issue: "But the norm is that the wives who are choosing to divorce are NOT the ones who are victims of abusive, adulterous or otherwise mis-behaving husbands. It begins to sound like blame when those things are raised, and yet time and time again, most divorces are not in such marriages, but low conflict marriages where such behavior is not present. Since that’s the majority case, and not the badly behaving husband, how do any of the suggestions really address the majority of divorce cases?" You seem to keep wanting to equate "no cheating or abuse" with "blameless husband". How do we account for the man who simply doesn't provide for his wife's reasonable emotional needs? He doesn't fit in either the "affairs or abuse" or "blameless" category, does he? I'd venture to say that most husbands fall into this middle category at some point. Most wives, too, but this isn't where they come for advice. Men need to hear that the care and feeding of their relationship is important and that, yes, that can help prevent divorce.

Rob
Rob

Paul, this was a great way to wrap up some of the thoughts I've had as I've read the recent series of posts (I'm a daily reader - love this site!). Tony, "blame" probably just isn't a useful topic in this context. I think the message here is: By having the kind of relationship where you're aware of your wife's needs/wants/desires and work to meet them, your chances of preventing the heartache of divorce are much better. I don't see how anyone could have a problem with that, because it's true. That doesn't mean that if your wife shields some hidden need to, say, have a variety of sex partners that the man's to blame. Nothing could be further from the truth. But that's not the norm. Men do bring many strengths into the relationship, but the ability to mindful of his wife's needs and wants and the state of the relationship often isn't one of them. In most cases, we husbands could stand to put more effort in there. Again, that strikes me as a difficult point to argue. With the audience he has and the goal of preventing more heartache, I think Paul's done a really nice job with this series.

Tony
Tony

Lest you think I'm saying I am any better, read this. It captures the true sentiment regarding our sinful nature. http://christianmilitaryleader.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/chaplain-responds-to-the-death-of-bin-laden/ While it's about the struggle to fight that sinful nature to rejoice over the death of who we believed to be an evil man, it also underscores the idea that we are just as guilty as sinful man. So if there is no moral high ground for us compared to UBL, there is also no high ground for one spouse compared to another. So how do you keep it together in such a situation? Will blame really help? If that blame is internal to the marriage or externally, do it make a positive difference in the marriage relationship?

Take Two
Take Two

I would actually take this one step further. I find that any time I tell someone they need to fix something, that I get the response "It's not my fault". My response is generally that I don't care who's at fault, but it needs to be fixed. Apparently most people in my world feel that I am the only one who can fix anything. Seems pretty common today. I trying to engrain in my kids ( the only one that have to listen to me) the need to fix problems when we see them. Hopefully it will eventually happen.

Jody McBride
Jody McBride

I think this quote fits the topic at hand: The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.~Albert Ellis

Lesli Doares
Lesli Doares

Thanks for this post. I try to tell my clients that the only one they have any control over is themselves. I also tell them that they have ownership in what their relationship looks like. Getting them to focus on their own behavior, not blame their partner, is the first step to having a better life.

Tony
Tony

So what does the man do when he's the one on the receiving end of the blame? Continuing with the theme (LOL) a man can change and change and yet his wife is still blaming him for everything. Until one day she does the ultimate blame, decides he's the reason her life isn't as happy, isn't as romantic, or fulfilling and chooses to just drop him from her life. So again, how does one choose to change, to be better when the other person is unwilling to even acknowledge that? Even if one accepts their part, and learns, it doesn't undo the accident. If the other "driver" blames you and doesn't let go of it, then of what benefit is it to accept your part and try to make changes? What if you can't find things to change? I don't mean that you are perfect. I simply mean that you've changed everything you know, but there is something the other person needs to change, but will neither credit you for your changes nor accept that there are things she needs to change. It seems we can get to a point where there is no power in change, and the only way you move forward is if the other person finally accepts their rightful blame. I've been there, focused totally and 100% on my side of the street. It made ZERO difference. It's always good to focus on doing better. But don't count on it actually making the relationship better. You may be sorely disappointed if you expect things to get better.

Tony
Tony

I've never said men were perfect, or that they did not have things they could and should improve. What I've said is the men I've described, the majority of those who end up facing a divorce filed by their wives are blameless regarding her decision to unilaterally end the marriage. You make a pretty big assumption that the man is willfulling choosing not to meet her needs. You are assuming she has communicated them in a fashion he understands and that when he does understand, she is willing to have her needs met by her husband. I see a lot of assumptions being made, and none of them are to give the abandoned husband the benefit of the doubt. We are never to blame for another person's choice to sin. Even more importantly than what you say we need to hear, we need to hear how to resolve the issue when care and feeding of the relationship doesn't save it. I've asked time and time again for the blaming of the abandoned husband to end and for tips to help him restore his marriage be provided. I simply see more blaming, more making excuses for the wives who chose to abandon those middle ground husbands. Where are the tips that will give him a reasonable chance to save his marriage? Blaming him certainly will not do that, will it?

Tony
Tony

I don't have a problem with trying to learn your wife's needs/wants/desires either. Nor do I have a problem with working towards meeting them It poly-amorous wives may not be the norm. But the norm is that the wives who are choosing to divorce are NOT the ones who are victims of abusive, adulterous or otherwise mis-behaving husbands. It begins to sound like blame when those things are raised, and yet time and time again, most divorces are not in such marriages, but low conflict marriages where such behavior is not present. Since that's the majority case, and not the badly behaving husband, how do any of the suggestions really address the majority of divorce cases? That has been my question. It's not just the guys who have a wife who engages in an affair. It's also the guys where the wife has just quit. Now we can argue if that's a sinful or not, but it doesn't change the scenario. It's my impression that we see guys and beaters and cheaters and if their wives leave, it's because of some failure on his part. If only he would have tried harder, cared more, or whatever. When you hear or read that, it is indeed blame. When you hear your pastor say, "What did you do to force your wife to have an affair?" that's a loaded question, right? When you read Dr Ken Nair say if your wife leaves, it's due to some failure on your part in most cases, that's blame. When you read Joel Davisson say if the wife leaves, even if she's having an affair, it's 99% the husband's fault, that's blame. So we talk a good talk when it comes to saying we shouldn't blame. But do we walk it when we read such things? Or even when Paul writes that men are not as good at relationship, or they mess up more in marriage, or any of those other things suggested? All I'm asking is to encourage men to step up without tearing them down on the other hand. Or without falsely elevating another. Christ died for his bride, the church, not because the church was less sinful. Christ died for the church because he cared for the church. We can be better man, better husbands and lay down our lives for our brides not because we think they are less sinful, or better at relationships, or any other false notion you might read. We choose to do so because we take seriously the command to love our wives. It doesn't matter if we think we are better or worse. The command is not conditional, it's not predicated on the relative state being either way. It's simply an unconditional command. So as much as folks want to be real about what husbands should do and how they should live with their wives in an understanding fashion, I'm asking for the same consideration when it comes to the nature of all humanity. We cannot place our brides on a pedestal upon which they don't belong, nor are we to use them as a footstool to make ourselves look bigger and better. Wives were designed to be help-meets, not 2nd class citizens in the Kingdom. But neither were men. So I agree with those who say we fall short of Christ and His example. With the same conviction, I disagree with those who would teach men are lacking relative to their wives when it comes to marriage and relationship as measured by God's standard for behavior in the marriage. Both fall short, and neither has an excuse to give up on God or their spouse in the marriage.

Tony
Tony

That follows the model of what I got from my pastor. Me: "Pastor, my wife is having an affair and filed for divorce, what can we do to encourage her to end the affair, drop the divorce and return to the marriage. Pastor: "What did you to do to force her to have the affair?" In other words, her behavior is your fault. So I'm a little sensitive regarding this topic. The way I see it if a woman cheats, it's because her man did something wrong. Look at what folks like Ken Nair and Joel Davisson write. They essentially say that if the woman acts out, then it's probably her husband's fault. In Joel Davisson's e-book, IIRC, he says this is the case 99% of the time. It's certainly over 90% but less than 100% according to him. So when Paul writes that men are guilty of more and bigger marital misconduct, I have ask, REALLY? Different misconduct, I'd probably agree. More? Doubtful. Trying to gage which is more destructive is like comparing a tornado to a typhoon. The both do the same sort of damage, but in different areas of the world. So when I see the problem of unbalanced blame, I can only speak out about it. I can't force anyone else to examine their assumptions, or to consider they may not be viewing all aspects of the issue. I can only point out what I see, and ask folks to use their hearts and minds to see if what I'm saying is true. I tend to believe it is. I don't believe there is any moral high ground held by either gender. We are all sinners, I keep coming back to that passage. So while folks may have felt the religious leaders in the days of Jesus were spiritually superior. (Those leaders certainly did.) The truth is that they were not and Christ exposed that truth. On a smaller scale, I see elements of saying one gender is spiritually superior to another. I think that's about as true today as it was when those leaders and their followers thought that two thousand years ago. The fallout from that sort of thinking is blame the victim. If the victim is seen as morally lacking compared to the perpetrator, then we can assert he had it coming. If only he would have... Which is a form of blame. Why blame the victim for something he couldn't stop once chosen by his spouse?

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

@Tony - My personal take on blame, or criticism, is to take it to the Lord and let Him show me what truth there may be in it. Then I deal with that, and with anything else that He shows me in that. You are very right about freewill, and God will let spouses do all manner of horrible things. A church that will stand by silently is guilty after the fact, and God will deal with them in His time and His way. As you say, sometimes the other person becomes a stopping place in a relationship. At that point the best one can do is try to learn from what has happened for the rest of their lives. And no, that's not the answer anyone wants to hear.

neilEthere
neilEthere

Peace, brother Tony, you have suffered great pain and those who have read your posts have felt that. How long is it since your wife left? How far through the grieving process are you? If you have read my earlier post, I was the one who left, I was the one who caused the pain. My sin was compunded by a left wife who mourned for 15 years After a second failed marriage, her sin continues to affect her loved ones, as does mine. Forgive. Live . Laugh. Love. It's all there for you. In Christ

Rob
Rob

"What I’ve said is the men I’ve described, the majority of those who end up facing a divorce filed by their wives are blameless regarding her decision to unilaterally end the marriage." That's your assertion. The only fact you've shared is that neither infidelity nor abuse were involved, but you continue to equate that to being blameless. That's pretty frustrating. Neglect of the marriage is a huge issue, but there's a whole spectrum of neglect. I have no idea if that was your issue in particular, but you're a little too quick to claim that there's nothing a husband can do as long as he's not a monster. That's absurd. "You make a pretty big assumption that the man is willfulling choosing not to meet her needs. You are assuming she has communicated them in a fashion he understands and that when he does understand, she is willing to have her needs met by her husband." I've made none of those assumptions and I don't believe that those things happen in most cases. You're clearly not listening to what's being said to you. Better men than I have tried, so I'll just say: You are not accountable for your ex-wife's sins. If you worked to build the type of marriage that God intended and she walked away anyways, then you also made no mistake and it sounds like there was nothing you could have done once you were aware. All that said, the idea that this site is doing some kind of damage with these messages is absurd. There is work to be done as husbands, and we often fall short even if we're not sleeping around. It still won't always work out, but that's not the point. Put your heart and soul into the relationship with your wife - that's all that can be expected. It's a good message. Don't let your pain blind you to the fact that many husbands need to hear it.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

@Tony - What might you have done to cause that is a valid question - but if that is all that is done, then it's not a right response. Failing to deal with known sin in one's congregation is a problem, and it will eventually cost those who turn a blind eye. I've had some long e-mail discussions with Joel Davisson, and I strongly disagree with him about his take that it's almost always the man's fault. I agree with him on the premises that get him there, but I think he fails to look at a number of other relevant facts, and as such gets an inaugurate answer. If you are dealing with those who follow his line of thinking, then yes, they will see you as the problem no matter what your wife (ex) does (did). It explains some of the replies I have seen from you. So sorry.

Bill
Bill

I had a counselor tell me once that in his experience the grief process takes about 7 years depending of course on what was lost and how it was lost. Death being easier than divorce. He also said that in the case of an unwanted divorce it will sometimes never be gotten over. What you are saying is like telling a man dying of septicemia to lighten up and look on the bright side of life. I am in my 5th year.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

@NeilEThere _ I appreciate your comment about not feeling the need to convert me to your point of view - it's a maturity I took a long time to accomplish! I do enjoy a good exchange of ideas and opinions. I don't think I agree completely with anyone, but I can still respect them. One person I certainly don't agree with is who I was a decade ago! ;-)

NeilEThere
NeilEThere

And that same counsellor should have told you that people can get 'stuck' during the process and need help to continue along the path to healthiness. To use your analogy re: septicemia, you can either help the patient to get to a hospital and get some help, or you can walk on by. Hang on, that sounds like a parable. On a more important note. I disagree with things Paul says on a regular basis, the difference is I don't feel called to try and convert him to my point of view by writing and arguing. If i want to put forward a different point I'll start my own blog.

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