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Examples of blame shifting in relationships

There are many buzz words floating around the Internet right now related to manipulative patterns in relationships. The positive thing about having these new terms, like ‘gaslighting’ for example, is they create a framework in your mind to help you. If you now know what gaslighting is, you don’t get so muddled when it happens to you. You have a label for it and you’ve created your own framework so you don’t get pushed around.

Another one of these tools to add to your framework is the term: BLAMESHIFTING. 

Have you ever had a conversation with your partner and you bring up something that is bothering you about their behavior, but somehow the topic has now shifted back to you? Now you are defending yourself, analyzing yourself and trying to remember the specifics of what you did six months ago at an unrelated time. 

You are also wondering if the timing was right or your tone of voice was off and the content of what you wanted to discuss isn’t being discussed at all. The argument is lost. The situation you were upset about was never addressed. Your guts are in turmoil.

That is the point for a blameshifter. If they can change the subject and shift your attention, they are off the hook.

Blameshifting sounds like this (in response to you bringing up something that's bothering you):

“And you don’t think you do that?”

“Well, I would listen if it weren’t for your tone of voice.”

“Wow, it’s never good enough for you is it?”

“And you’ve never lied before?”

“You comment on your ex’s photos on Instagram so how is that any different than what I am doing?”

“I wasn’t bad mouthing you and anyway, how is it any different than you telling your sister things about me?”

“You were late last week coming home from work so I’m not sure why you are bringing up me being late now?”

“Oh my God, seriously! Now? You are bringing this up right now? Great timing!”

“I can see this is going to be one of our typically productive conversations….” (dismissive eye roll)

In short, the person turns the entire topic around to where you are somehow the bad guy. It’s your tone. It’s your timing. It’s something you do as well therefore not a big deal.

If someone is trying to manipulate you, and they can turn the focus of the argument from them to you, they've won the argument in their mind. It's not about taking accountability - it's about distracting you.

The trouble is, you might not see it as a tactic, but rather as a time when you are supposed to be honest, take responsibility and be authentic. You don’t want to come across as not accountable for your own actions and so you allow the topic change.

It’s similar to when a parent asks a teenager to clean their room and the teenager responds, “Your room isn’t clean so why does mine need to be?” An aware parent will just reiterate the rule and not be pulled into this side bar.

It’s just a diversion so they can keep doing what they want to do (not clean).


So what can you do if your partner tries to blameshift the argument?

  1. You can continue to hold the space for the thing you brought up. You don’t allow the topic shift.
  2. You could do this by becoming quiet and refusing to continue the argument if it’s not about the thing you brought to the table.
  3. You could set a limit verbally. “If you aren’t interested in discussing what I brought up, then the conversation is over.” Then remove yourself.
  4. You could say, “I feel like you are changing the subject.” Then wait to see if it goes back.
  5. You could make a mental note that blameshifting is occurring, see it as a potentially toxic strategy, and then wait for your partner to calm down to a place where he or she can think more clearly.
  6. You could go read a book or watch a YouTube video. The point is you don’t allow your partner to run you down a bunch of rabbit holes. Stay where you are with what you need addressed.

These words may make it easier for you to have a term to put on something, but they don’t make your relationship woes any easier. These dynamics give people stomach aches, headaches, brain fog or brain freeze, and major upset and frustration. It can be difficult to know when your partner is really using blameshifting. It starts to get really confusing.

If you need someone to help sort these things with, we are available and we have a team to help. We know how frustrating (and common) blameshifting is in relationships.

If you’d like to look through our team to find a counselor who is a fit, click here.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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