Why We Shame, Blame, and Criticize

“You never fill up the car! We could have been stranded!”

“I’m not the one who decided their friends were more important than our anniversary!”

“Well, maybe saving wouldn’t take so long if you weren’t stopping at Starbucks twice a day.”

When you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, they are going to do things that frustrate you. They might do lots of things that frustrate you. This is not a one-sided issue – even if you don’t know it, you are absolutely doing things that drive them crazy, too.

Unfortunately, far too often our way of dealing with these frustrations is to shame, blame, and criticize. This is utterly unproductive, but we all do it to some degree.


Let’s take a look at where it all comes from, and what you can do about it as a couple.

Shame On You, Shame On Me

Science suggests we are most likely wired to respond to shaming because it keeps us in line with societal rules that used to be required for survival. Breaking them previously resulted in danger, isolation, or even death.

However, shaming your partner today never nourishes your relationship, and it rarely fixes the “problems” it’s supposedly aimed at fixing. Instead, things like sarcasm, name-calling, expressing disgust, and eye-rolling cause the person being shamed feel both terrible, and to lose respect for you.

The Blame Game

Psychological research on “self-serving bias” reveals that we tend to take credit when things are going well, and lay blame when they aren’t. Which seems kind of obvious, right? It’s less work that way, and it feels safer than admitting fault.

Unfortunately, the blame game only ends one way: a total shutdown in communication. If you’ve already reached this point and need relationship help, a relationship counselor can be the advocate you need to reopen those lines of communication.

In any case, feeling judged and devalued isn’t conducive to learning and growth. Instead of fixing a problem, blame simply pushes your partner away.

No communication = no relationship.

Your Own Worst Critic

Have you ever heard the saying, “I’m only as hard on others as I am on myself”? A number of psychologists agree that projection is one of the fastest ways to get rid of bad feelings about ourselves.

Therefore, focusing on our partner’s faults typically either a) points to personal insecurities, or b) distracts from other bad feelings about ourselves.

Before you speak, look inward. Are you about to impart criticism or feedback?

And be careful. Critical people often tell themselves they’re simply trying to be helpful when the real goal is simply to criticize.

How can you tell? Try this test: are you pointing out some inherent, unchangeable trait, or sharing something that would actually improve your partner’s life?

If it’s the former, you’re not being helpful – you’re just criticizing.

The key is to recognize when you’re falling into the shame-blame-criticism trap. Identify what you’re doing. Immediately stop. Ask yourself, “What am I afraid will happen if my partner continues with what he or she is doing here?”

The answer will probably provide a good idea of whether the issue really lies with them or you, and how you can better approach the situation so you both benefit.