Category Archives: relationships

The Blame Game – No Winners


This is one of those tough subjects to deal with in counseling. It is so common to want to point out other people’s faults, especially when we feel hurt and upset. But it rarely leads to any kind of positive outcome, even if we are right. Maybe especially when we are right. When we blame others it will undoubtedly create a defensive posture in the other person(s).

Often I hear someone who is in full blame mode say:

“But I am just expressing my feelings.”

No, not really. You may be feeling wronged, hurt, sad, scared, frustrated or a lot of other feelings, but when you blame someone your intention is to make the other person feel bad or admit that they are wrong and responsible for your feelings. That is not the same thing at all. Blaming is the acting out of your interpreted and processed feelings. It is a response, not a feeling.

When I make a statement like “She made me angry.” I am saying that someone else has power and control over me. Blaming feels like a way of taking back control of myself, but really it’s a verification that I am out of control.

I must admit that I can fail at this pretty easily when I am overwhelmed. It’s so much easier to blame someone than it is to do the work of trying to understand, empathize or forgive. Blaming will shut down a dialog and damage a relationship. If you are like me, the process takes place rapidly in my head. I take offense and I want the other person to know it. Even if I don’t let the words come out of my mouth, my attitude and demeanor transmitted by my body language can say everything that I am itching to announce verbally.

Two anchoring Bible verses for me have been:

James 1:19 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”

Matthew 12:36-37 (Jesus speaking)  “And I tell you this, you must give an account on       judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

I read that last verse and I think “I am sunk! I can’t even defend the words I let loose today, let alone every word ever.”  But then I remember other verses:

Romans 5:9 “And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.”

Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

I am restored. Redeemed.

But the takeaway from those first two verses is two things: 1) The speed at which you do things matters and 2) You must take control over yourself. You are responsible for you and accountable to God.

There was an old commercial tag line that said “The pause that refreshes”. I think that can be applied very nicely in these situations. Taking a break will always give the rush of chemicals that assault our brain during a conflict time to settle down. The crazy leaves and the rational returns.

Make no mistake about it. There are no winners in the blame game – only losers. 

Making Old Things New

old things new

We recently bought a cabin about four hours away from our home in Los Angeles. It was built in 1982, making it 35 years old. For us this is relatively new compared to our primary home which was built in 1930.

One of the fun aspects for me is making small repairs and renewing some of the neglected things around the cabin. I am also crafting or repurposing a few things from cast aside materials and secondhand stores.

This metaphor (or is it simile or analogy?) has been used numerous times to illustrate how God works in us, making us new and doing so with delight. But I think we also have an opportunity to do the same in our relationships with each other.

We live in a culture that tends to throw things away. We replace rather than repair. But I have found that we often trade down rather than up. Our old toaster got much hotter than our new one. So did our iron (you know, the thing that you used before permanent press came along). Unfortunately people do that with relationships as well.

So how do we reverse that in marriage or friendships or at the workplace?

We make old things new:

  • Every time we mend a relationship with forgiveness
  • Every time we treat someone with a more positive attitude
  • Every time we swallow hurtful words
  • Every time we confront with love rather than avoid
  • Every time we listen rather than doing all the talking
  • Every time we make room for the other person’s perspective
  • Every time we power down rather than power up

I can demolish something very quickly. Give me a big hammer and a crowbar and I can reverse someone’s craftsmanship in a mater of minutes (often my own). That doesn’t take skill or maturity. What does take skill is to look at something that has been neglected or damaged and figure out how to lovingly restore it.

When Nan and I were younger that was the choice that was in front of us. We chose the harder path of making old things new by going to counseling. It changed our lives, mine especially. Do you hear a challenge in this? Is the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart?

4 Steps to Avoiding Relationship Trouble

For years Nan & I have given the instruction to clients to ask themselves

“What do I feel and what do I need?”

It’s good advice, but it’s not complete enough. Then we came across an expanded four step version from therapist and professor Terry Hargrave, who attends our church.

It is as follows:

  1. What do you feel?
  2. What do you believe?
  3. What is the truth (reality)
  4. What is the right action? (This is where “What do I need?” might be a good question.)

We like to tell a story about early in our marriage when Nan & I went camping in Upper Chileo Flats in the Angeles Crest Forest here in California. It was late at night and Nan needed to make a bathroom visit. So she took the flashlight and headed for the outhouse. I was tucked snugly in our 1960 Ford Vanette hippie van camper named “Big Pink”. All of a sudden Nan came bounding in to the camper and jumped in bed behind me and started pushing me toward the open door with her feet.

“There’s a mountain lion out there. Go do something!”

I remember that what I wanted to do was to put my pants on. But like a dutiful new husband I grabbed the flashlight and went to investigate. Instead of the roar of a mountain lion, I was met by the meow of someone’s kitty-cat.

Nan’s 4 steps:
  1. What did she feel? Fear
  2. What did she believe? There was a lion after her and she was in danger.
  3. What was the truth? It was a harmless house cat.
  4. What was the right action? Well, maybe to pet the cat if it was friendly.

She also had one more belief. The Bible said a husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the church and be willing to lay down his life for her. (Eph. 5:25). Maybe this was a test of faith for a new husband?

When these four steps are applied prior to emotional interactions with others, the outcome may be very different from our initial assessment. You can easily see that if we have inaccurate beliefs or assumptions we are going to react incorrectly no matter what we may feel. This is why slowing down our reactivity in any type of relationship will probably yield better results. It is so easy to believe that someone is against you when they really aren’t. Maybe they are just for themselves. Or perhaps they are actually for you, but it’s hard to receive because of past experiences or family of origin issues.

When I get a hold of my inner dialog and bring it under Christ’s authority I am a different person. As our pastor says, before a person opens their mouth to ANYONE, they should ask themselves these three questions:

Is it kind?        Is it true?      Is it necessary?

If they can’t say yes to all three conditions then they should not say it. Going through the four steps will help determine the answers to those questions and change your interactions for the better with everyone.