4 Tips to Focus Your Conflicts

One of the most damaging things you can do to your partner is to shame them. What does shaming sound like? It is most often a statement made with a tone that conveys disgust and gives your partner the message that they aren’t okay or wrong with them. Here are some examples I’ve heard in my office:

“Be a real man,” or “Man up,” or “What kind of a man would ask me to pay rent?”
“You are disgusting!” or “You are a loser!”
“You are just like your mother/father.” 
“You’re crazy!” or “You’re so emotional!”

Shaming can also be conveyed nonverbally by eye-rolling, huffing and puffing, giving a nasty look, or being sarcastic.

It’s essential that to feel emotionally safe in your relationships. That’s not possible if your partner consistently shames you.

I wholeheartedly believe that relationships can be negativity-free. I work with couples who come to me in pursuit of this kind of relationship. Negativity-free means no blaming, no shaming, no criticism, and no feeling emotionally unsafe. Ever!

Most people don’t believe this is possible. My own therapist is skeptical when I tell her that my husband and I rarely fight. Why would we waste our time fighting when we darn well know how to talk about what’s bothering us without blame and criticism? 

When shaming behaviors become ingrained, it’s difficult to stop them. We’ve heard since we were small that we are either good or bad, right or wrong. But there is a better way! In short, it’s best for your relationship to you explain your needs and to stop shaming them.

Everyone loses when the blame game is played

Instead of implying something is wrong with your partner, statements like, why can’t you keep a job?” How could I marry such a loser?  Take responsibility for how their behavior impacts you, and express what you really need, “when you told me you got laid off from your job, I felt terrified because I’m not sure that we can live on my salary alone.” I need to know that you will go out and look for another job immediately or file for unemployment so that I’m assured we will be okay. Are you willing to do that?”

Your partner will appreciate you being on their side and sharing your concerns without all the blame. At the same time, you’re also clear about your needs while asking for your partner’s help. They will likely respond more constructively than if you start by shaming them.

 When you blame or shame your partner, they become overly invested in defending themselves, and the real issue gets lost. They will spend time making excuses or lobbing insults. You both will walk away feeling bad about the situation. You won’t get the satisfaction of knowing if your partner is willing to meet your needs, and they will feel shameful.

Here are some simple steps to determining what you need:

Step1: Figure out what you are feeling in the situation

Initially, you might feel angry that your partner lost their job, but is that your primary feeling? In this case, you likely feel scared about an uncertain future. 

Step 2: Figure out your needs are in the situation 

In this case, you need to know that your partner is willing to look for work.

Step 3: Figure out the strategy to get your needs met

Determine how your partner will respond best to this issue and meet them there.

Step 4: Ask your partner for help.

Ask if they will start looking for a job as soon as possible? Or see if they have solutions you might not have considered.


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barbi pecenco lmft

Barbi Pecenco, LMFT

A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  with over 15 years of experience, Barbi works with individuals to help resolve issues that have them feeling stuck in life. She’s based in Newport Beach, California. Learn more about Barbi >

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