Who’s to blame for your emotions?

“You make me so angry!” said Simon, sitting with his arms folded, jaw tense, his foot tapping furiously.

Kathy, was outraged. “It’s your fault! You made me really frustrated so I had to sort it out myself!”

Kathy and Simon had been arguing about a simple domestic issue – there had been a problem with the boiler and Kathy had asked Simon to deal with it. Simon had meant to get round to it but had been so busy at work that it kept slipping his mind. In the end, frustrated, Kathy called a local gas engineer who came out to fix the problem when Simon was at work. When Simon found out he was angry that Kathy hadn’t waited for him to fix it.

When you are feeling a negative emotion, it is usual to think that someone else, i.e. your partner, has caused the emotion. It therefore makes sense in your mind that they are responsible for your negative feeling. So you blame them, just like Simon did when he said “You make me so angry!”.

Other common blaming phrases I hear from couples around emotions are:-

“Why do you make me feel like this?”
“Stop winding me up”
“You always do this to me”
“You drive me mad!”

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

What if I told you that actually, NOBODY is powerful enough to make you feel anything? That only YOU are responsible for your emotions? And that blaming your partner for your own emotional response actually alienates them?

“But his/her behaviour is completely unreasonable!” I hear you cry. “They DO upset me/make me angry/irritate me!”.

So let me explain it another way.

When it rains, how do you feel?

For some people, it lowers their mood, because it means they can do less, or they have a negative association with cold, wet weather. They prefer warm sunshine. For others, rain elevates their mood, they like being wrapped up and cosy indoors in front of the fire, and if they are outside, they love the way the rain unlocks the earthy scents of Nature.

So there are two different, opposite responses to the rain. But is the rain responsible for those emotions? Or is it the individuals themselves who have their own unique experiences of the rain who develop their own emotional responses?

I’ll give you a clue – it’s not the rain!

Whether we are talking about your response to the weather or your response to your partner’s behaviour, one truth that applies to both is that it’s not the weather or the behaviour that causes your emotion – it is your own internal process that causes the emotion.

That’s why some things seem to bother your partner more than they bother you, and vice versa.

I’m not in any way excusing unreasonable behaviour – if you or your partner are triggering each other through unreasonable behaviour, then the person being unreasonable has the responsibility to address that.

What I am talking about here is taking responsibility for your own emotions, even if your partner’s behaviour IS unreasonable.

Taking responsibility for your emotions doesn’t mean that you have to blame yourself for your partner’s behaviour instead, or even blame yourself your emotions. Emotions are there whether or not we feel they are justified. They are blameless – they just are what they are.

It’s how we deal with them that counts.

Blaming your partner for them nearly always leads to them feeling attacked, at which point they will become defensive, and often they might “attack back” by blaming you for how they feel.

Once this happens your feelings get overlooked, and as a result, don’t get addressed.

In Simon and Kathy’s case, I taught them a really simple formula to help them communicate their emotions more effectively, without going into attack and defense mode:-

  • Facts
  • Feelings
  • Fair Requests

Simon instead phrased his complaint like this:-

“When you called in someone else to fix the boiler today (facts – be specific about the behaviour that’s bothered you), I felt angry because I felt bad about the fact that I hadn’t done it (feelings – “I felt” rather than “you made me feel”), so what I would like going forward is for us to make decisions about household repairs together (fair requests – what do you want to be different?).”

Kathy phrased her complaint like this:-

“When I noticed you hadn’t fixed the boiler by Friday, which was 7 days later than what we had agreed (facts), I felt frustrated because I thought that you hadn’t listened to how important it was to me (feelings), and what I would like in the future is for you to stick to plans relating to household repairs once we agree them (fair requests).”

Expressing your feelings in this way means that you will both get your feelings across to each other, and gain something positive by expressing them, as your focus shifts from blame to cooperation.

In Nature we are dependent on cooperation and cohesion for survival. Working as a team means we can be so much more effective and so much safer. Animals may disagree over territory but they don’t blame each other for their emotions. Their relationships may not be as complex as ours, but in a way, that simplicity is a valuable reminder to us of how to live in greater harmony together!

If you struggle with blame or any other aspect of communication in your relationship, CLICK HERE to download my FREE Communication Guide for Couples. This will give you more top tips for improving the communication in your relationship and although the principles and skills you will learn are really simple, they can make a PROFOUND difference to you and your partner!

And remember, always tend to and maintain your relationship as though it were a beautiful garden, to enable it to thrive!

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