Building Bridges

Issue # 37 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

Reversing The Blame

A typical response that frequently occurs in communication between couples is what I refer to as the "reverse play." Instead of hearing what one's partner has to say, a person avoids taking their partner's comments to heart by always turning the situation around, thus avoiding responsibility. The following is an example that will illustrate this further:

Adam is a master at reversing the focus and making a situation appear as if Beth's shortcomings are to blame whenever she is upset or frustrated with him. He gets off the hook by building a case that her perspective is flawed. He rarely can admit to being less than perfect. Even worse, she gets no actual results from her original requests for change.

Beths says, "Adam, you don't help out enough around the house. It's not fair, I have to take care of the kids and do all of the cleaning, and I'm exhausted." Adam responds with, "That's not true, I do plenty. Just yesterday I washed the cars. Don't blame me because you're tired. If you didn't let the kids make such big messes and allow everything to get so chaotic you wouldn't be so tired of cleaning up."

Adam shifts Beth into believing she is looking at the situation incorrectly. With his help, Beth has a "new clarity" in which he is right and she was wrong. Subconsciously, Adam assumes Beth will see that he has great wisdom and she's in fact responsible and the one that should change. If he can shift his partner's thinking to agree with his perspective, he doesn't have to change or do anything differently. Since Adam, like most of us, usually believes that he is right, this allows him to not feel manipulative.

While this may work in getting Beth to back off of her request for more help, it doesn't do much to strengthen their partnership and sense of being a team, much less support feelings of intimacy and closeness between them.

Agreeing to disagree works well in avoiding wasting a lot of energy arguing about differences in taste, perception, and beliefs. Yet when there is an obstacle in your relationship that must be dealt with, such as Beth's concern about having more help around the house, in order to move in a positive direction, there must be a spirit of flexibility and openness to your partner's concerns.

The reverse play keeps a couple stuck in the same situation with no real progress. You may not always agree, but as a loving partner you will still make the effort to make sure your partner feels listened to, respected, and loved. If Adam cared more about being that kind of partner for Beth, he would willingly choose to help her more even if he thought that he already helped enough.

Beth tells her husband, "You rarely initiate sex anymore. I don't feel like you're still attracted to me." Since Adam never takes responsibility, he must find something or someone to blame. He redirects the focus to her by saying, "I got tired of initiating only to have you passively respond. Besides, you never initiate either!"

Many relationships exist in which one of the partners is very controlling. How is this "controlling" achieved? Through clever manipulation that results in one person believing the other must always be listened to, obeyed, or "respected." This controlling person is often unfair, selfish, and egotistical, which helps him/her be successful in assuming a leadership role within the relationship. This "controller" is also usually a master at the reverse play and convincing his/her partner most everything that is a problem is really the partner's fault.

Sure, most of us don't like to look bad and it is especially hard to take responsibility for our less-than-admirable behavior or action. We hate being blamed, and even when the accusations are true, we tend to look for ways to shift the blame or explain away our responsibility. However, couples who strive to give up use of the "reverse play" will begin listening to one another and acknowledging each other's perspectives like never before.

As you begin to acknowledge your partner's perspective, your feelings towards them will in turn be more loving and accepting. This creates an opening for movement and growth, both of which are necessary for the long-term success of a relationship.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

Building Bridges Table of Contents

Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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