Often, a “discussion” of relationship problems is in reality a “hot potato of blame game”. Each partner assumes a familiar stance based on notions that they know what their partner is thinking and are therefore prepared to pull out an arsenal of phrases tailored to protect themselves from “blame” and designed to provide “evidence” that the other is at fault.
This exercise in futility, at best, and hostility at worst, is presented by the couple as a legitimate effort to work out problems. In fact, it is the opposite. Instead it is what I describe as the parallel play blame game, a destructive and alienating game that mimics conversation but is more military in nature. Very young children happily play solo games in one another’s company. This is referred to as “parallel play”. In fact, there is little actual exchange and often limited interaction, all of which are age appropriate. Likewise, a couple may share a common space, seemingly “exchanging” ideas but in fact are engaged in solo play, but a far more destructive form, the blame game. That is the game of repeating stock phrases designed to prove that the other is “wrong”, winging accusations at each other and dodging the same. Here too there is no real exchange. Winning is being blameless and “right”.
As the therapist my job is to interrupt this game of folly, point out its abysmal track record, mistaken beliefs and assumptions and introduce the concept of “inquiry”, an honest exercise in discovery which allows each partner to wonder and learn about what the other really thinks and feels. “Why assume that I know what lies beneath the hurtful phrases and behaviors. Perhaps I can learn something about my feelings and my partner’s that I didn’t know before.” Once the hot potato of blame is set aside, legitimate exchange can begin.
©jill edelman, L.C.S.W. M.S.W.
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