Throwing a Pity Party Is Bad for Your Marriage! Take responsibility, avoid the victim roll, and watch your marriage grow. BY DR. NOELLE NELSON
When you've messed up, playing the victim doesn't help you move forward and improve your marriage.
“ Avoiding responsibility does not get rid of the pain, nor does it better your marriage.”
Ever noticed how you talk to yourself when you've made a mistake or failed to do something the way you wanted to? The inner conversation often runs something like this:
"I can't believe I said that to my husband/wife. I am a complete moron. My spouse is going to be upset with me for days;"
"Fifteen pounds! I can't believe I gained 15 pounds! I promised my spouse I’d pay more attention to my health. I have no self-control, I'm a mess;"
"My spouse was flirting with that guy/gal at the company party. I must not be attractive to my spouse any more. I’m probably not all that attractive to anyone any more."
The situations may vary, but the inner talk is the same. You go from a very specific event (saying something dumb, gaining unwanted pounds, your spouse flirting) to a demeaning conclusion about your general worth ("I'm a complete moron; I have no self-control, I'm a mess; I'm not attractive any more"), without even pausing to take a breath in between.
People often confuse blaming themselves with taking responsibility. Judging yourself an inept idiot for saying something dumb to your spouse isn't taking responsibility, it's avoiding responsibility by taking on the role of victim:
"Poor me, I'm so dumb, oh dear, my spouse will be upset with me for days."
"I gained 15 pounds, poor me, there's nothing I can do about it, I've got no self-control."
"I'm not attractive to my spouse any more, poor me, nobody would find me attractive."
Victim! And useless in improving the situation. Taking responsibility is a very different matter and would look something like this:
"I said something really dumb to my spouse. What can I do to compensate for that? Offer a genuine apology? Engage in a grown-up discussion about the underlying issue? Maybe figure out what I can do so I don't say something stupid in the future? Like count to 10 before I open my mouth, listen more and talk less?"
"OK, so I gained 15 pounds. What can I do to lose them? Be more conscious of what's going on when I put food in my mouth, go to OA (Overeaters Anonymous), take an aerobics class? And what can I do to see to it I don't gain them back? Learn more about my relationship to my body, consult a nutritionist?"
"All right, my spouse was flirting. How can I approach this constructively? Can I seek to understand why my spouse might be flirting? Have I been appreciating him/her less, taking my spouse for granted? How about investing more in our marriage? Date nights, meaningful conversations, getting involved in a hobby together."
These are ways of taking responsibility, of dealing positively with the mistakes and failures we all experience. Avoiding responsibility does not get rid of the pain, nor does it better your marriage. Only as we take responsibility, seek to stretch and reach and grow, do we transform painful situations into vibrant, happy ones.
You are a strong and worthy person. Don't deny your strength and worth, for in it there is great power.
Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., is a relationship expert, popular speaker in the U.S. and abroad, and author of nine best-selling books, including "Your Man is Wonderful" and "Dangerous Relationships." Dr. Nelson focuses on how we can all enjoy happy, fulfilling lives while accomplishing great things in love, at home and at work, as we appreciate ourselves, our world and all others. For more, visit www.noellenelson.com and follow her on Twitter @DrNoelleNelson and Google+.