I love to play piano.
I remember the piano I grew up with: the ivory keys, chalky under my fingertips, and the horseshoe notch on the tip of middle C.
The piano was a phenomenal outlet. It still is.
I don’t know if you ever play piano, but imagine this: playing piano from a place of blame. Picture yourself when you’ve just had it. You just can’t even. The world is going to crap, your dry cleaner ruined your interview suit, you’ve been audited for no good reason, your kids are being bullied, your partner did not stop doing that thing you cannot STAND...
WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH. EV-ER-Y-ONE
Piano strings trembling, box radiating, sound waves bouncing off the smooth walls, in a grand crescendo until - resolution.
Blame. As much it doesn’t feel good to blame, it feels good to blame.
Songs are beautiful in that way. You play and play all the feelings, the instrument simply listens, and you, almost always, come to some kind of resolution. All on your own.
This principle doesn't work so well in relationships. And it's one of the reasons why I love working with couples. When a couple comes into the room, it’s like opening up a piece of music. We stumble over the notes together, we find the affect, we determine the cadence, and before we know it, we’re in a full blown situation where the couple is enacting the very issue they are coming to see me for. And much of the time what they’re coming to see me for involves blame.
Hard blame. The fiery hot blame that spews steam from our ears. The ninja-quiet blame that sneaks up and cuts us open, so quickly you question if it actually happened. The pedestal blame that points a finger from an ideological monument and leaves us feeling small. Sometimes, it even feels better to blame ourselves and crumple into shame than it does to walk through the pain.
Listen. We all do it. It just looks differently.
A couple comes in with a song, a way of desperately trying to connect to one another, and the song often does not sound the way they want it to.
WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH MY. PART-NER.
are usually the songs that gets sung.
It’s either you or me. I get it. It feels good to find the cause of something painful. Blame perpetually hunts for a culprit, where it can give birth to contempt, shame, and moral superiority. And when Baby Contempt is born, the research shows the relationship is in trouble: a roll of the eyes, a scoff of disgust, a correction of a person’s grammar, a questioning of a person’s upbringing...
Blame closes down the conversation. It darkens our vision of what is actually going on between us. It prevents us from taking ownership of our own stuff. It turns a dialogue between two fleshy humans into an assailment towards an inanimate object.
Our goal is to open, loosen, and lighten what is going on inside of us and between us. Instead of getting stuck in the Blame Game where it’s you vs. me, how about we create space for us to carefully experience ourselves and our relationship from a different angle? How about we try a third way?
When we step outside the Blame Game and into dialogue, we develop stronger empathy and personal responsibility. We stumble along until we meet a safe kind of humor and laugh with the parts of ourselves that got us so riled up in the first place. Instead of performing a solo rage onto the smooth, hard keys of a piano, we find ourselves in an authentic duet: giving and taking, listening and speaking, back and forth, two fleshy humans singing together the song of connection.
Lauren Masopust, MS, MFT Intern has extensive experience working with young adults, adolescents, and couples, and specializes in areas of trauma, identity development, and multicultural issues.