How to respond to blame-shifting in marriage?

by Gideon Hanekom
December 31, 2021

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In this post, we’re looking at the aetiology of blame and how to respond to blame-shifting in marriage.

There is nothing that can take a marriage down faster than blame-shifting.

When a person begins to blame their spouse for all of the problems in their marriage, it can quickly lead to the destruction of the relationship because it causes the partners to distrust and resent each other.

Blame-shifting can cause relationships to suffer by causing partners to respond in negative ways, thereby damaging the relationship.

And because blame-shifting causes us to become defensive and lash out at others when they criticize us, it becomes more difficult for us to have positive and productive interactions with others.

Furthermore, it can be very difficult to rebuild trust once it has been destroyed because it can take a long time for partners to start trusting each other again and forget how they made each other feel.

The truth, however, is that blame-shifting isn’t just destructive to the quality of our relationships with others.

It also negatively affects our relationship with ourselves and can lead to problems in all areas of life other than marriage.

For example, it can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness.

how to respond to blame-shifting

This can in turn lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

And guilt and shame can make it difficult for people to ask for what they want and need in life, which can lead to further unhappiness.

As a result, blaming others for problems that we have created for ourselves can make us feel increasingly like victims and cause self-pity to build up inside of us.

If you feel like a victim in your marriage, it can be very difficult to have a positive outlook on your relationship or to feel happy.

You may feel like you are constantly being taken advantage of or that your spouse is never there for you.

This can lead to a lot of resentment and bitterness, which can poison your relationship in the long run.

So, if you do feel like a victim in your marriage at the moment, it is perhaps important to seek help from a therapist or counsellor who can help you work through these feelings and improve your relationship.

In short, if you want to increase the likelihood of having a stable and long-lasting marriage, you need to reduce blame-shifting in your interactions with your spouse as it spells nothing good for the future.

But, what exactly is blame-shifting?

Blame shifting meaning

The term “blame shifting” is used to describe the phenomenon of a person or group of people attempting to shift the blame for a negative event or action onto another person or group.

It can be quite common in relationships to shift the blame onto each other.

This is a negative behaviour and can be an expression of one or both people’s low self-esteem, anger, resentment, guilt, or depression.

With regard to a relationship, when one person blames the other for something negative that has happened or will happen.

They may also blame the other person for not doing something.

For example, if one person is upset because they were left out of an activity, they may accuse the other person of not wanting to be included.

There is often a sense of “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and the other person has to do something different.

how to respond to blame-shifting

There can be many different ways that blame-shifting can manifest in a relationship.

Some examples include: When a husband and wife argue, they can argue over whether the other is to blame.

In these cases, one person may be trying to exert control over the other by blaming them for something that is not their fault.

When a parent is frustrated with a child, they may try to blame the child for being bad, rather than taking responsibility themselves.

A boss may try to blame employees for something that is not their fault.

The essence of blame-shifting is to try and avoid responsibility for one’s own actions by putting the blame on someone or something else.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as making excuses, playing the victim, or casting doubt on the accuser.

Blame-shifting can be an effective way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes, but it can also damage relationships and create animosity.

5 types of narcissist blame-shifting

A narcissistic person is someone who is excessively preoccupied with their own needs and desires, often to the exclusion of others.

They may have a grandiose sense of self-importance and believe that they are superior to others.

They may be demanding and often lack empathy for others.

As a result, narcissists may use blame-shifting in marriage to their advantage in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

By shifting the blame to their spouse, they may be able to avoid feeling guilty or ashamed and may be able to continue engaging in harmful behaviours without consequence.

Additionally, narcissists may use blame-shifting as a way to control their spouse by making them feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in the relationship.

If a spouse attempts to stop the narcissist from engaging in abusive behaviour, the narcissist may retaliate by pointing out how their spouse is at fault.

1. Blaming others for their own failures

The narcissist will use blame-shifting as a way to shift responsibility for failures or bad events in the relationship to their spouse.

They may say things like, “You made me do it,” or “I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t done X first.”

The narcissist will also say things like, “You started it,” “You were the one who came up with that idea,” “I thought it was your idea, not mine,” or “I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t made me angry first.”

While this type of language may sound like a reasonable comment to someone outside the relationship, it is extremely damaging to a spouse and should never be used by anyone, especially not in the marriage.

Narcissists are experts at blaming others for their own failures and frequently do so in order to deflect responsibility from themselves.

2. Blaming others for their own problems

Again, the narcissist will use blame-shifting to shift responsibility for problems in the relationship back to their spouse.

They will frequently say things like, “If you weren’t so needy, I wouldn’t have had to do X,” or “You drove me to do it,” or “I never would have done that if you hadn’t been so mean and nasty to me.”

While this language may sound reasonable at first, it is in actuality very damaging to the spouse and should never be used.

3. Blaming others for their own bad luck

The narcissist often blames others for their own bad luck, which is actually a tactic used to mask the narcissist’s own bad choices and decisions.

They will often say things like, “If you hadn’t been on my case so much, I wouldn’t have gotten fired,” or “If you hadn’t been late that morning, I wouldn’t have lost my job.”

This logic is flawed, however, and is really a denial of their own decision-making skills and how to effectively deal with bad situations.

4. Blaming others for their own unhappiness

Narcissists will often blame others for their own unhappiness.

They will say things like, “If you weren’t so bad-tempered and annoying, I wouldn’t be so unhappy.”

Once again, this is a tactic used to shift the blame from themselves to someone else, who in reality is the primary cause of their own suffering.

how to respond to blame-shifting

The truth, however, is that taking responsibility for your own happiness is one of the most important things you can do in life.

If you are not happy, it is up to you to change that.

You have to find what makes you happy and focus on that every day.

Your spouse is not responsible for your happiness.

The narcissist, however, does not buy into this and will frequently blame their spouse for their own happiness.

5. Blaming others for their own anger

Narcissists will often blame others for their own anger.

They will say things like, “If you weren’t so arrogant and dismissive I wouldn’t be so angry.”

Once again, this is a tactic used to shift the blame from themselves, who in reality is the primary cause of their own suffering.

The truth, however, is that taking responsibility for your own anger is one of the most important things you can do in life.

If you are angry, it is up to you to change that.

You have to find what triggers your anger and focus on changing that.

Your spouse is not responsible for your anger.

The narcissist, however, also does not buy into this and will frequently blame their spouse for their anger outbursts or feelings of anger.

At the end of the day, if you’re dealing with a narcissist who constantly shifts blame to others, the best way to deal with it is to stay calm and assertive.

Don’t let them manipulate you into taking the blame, and don’t fall for their lies. Keep your composure and stand your ground.

And if necessary, call them out on it or walk away from the situation until you can regain your composure.

Narcissists tend to punish you emotionally when you don’t take the bait, so it is essential that you be very clear in your responses.

When you are being emotionally manipulated and wounded by your partner, try to figure out exactly what the narcissist is trying to do and respond accordingly.

But, what exactly is the psychology behind this blame-shifting?

Why do we blame others rather than take responsibility for our own actions and decisions?

The psychology behind blame-shifting. Why do we blame others?

Blame-shifting is a common psychological tactic that we use in order to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions.

We often blame others in order to avoid feeling guilty or ashamed of ourselves.

It also serves a dual purpose: to shift attention away from what we have done and towards the other person.

This is extremely useful because blaming someone else allows us to avoid taking personal responsibility for what we have done.

Psychology says that people often shift blame to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.

This can be done by making excuses, denying involvement, or placing the blame on someone or something else.

Blaming others can be a way to avoid embarrassment, protect one’s self-image, or avoid dealing with the consequences of one’s actions.

Whenever we blame another person or group of people for something, we are not only blaming them, but we are also making an excuse for our own behaviour.

how to respond to blame-shifting

Additionally, blame-shifting can be regarded as a good example of a fundamental attribution error.

In plain English, we frequently relate another person’s actions to their personality and character.

However, when it comes to ourselves, we frequently blame our own conduct on external circumstances and things outside our control.

For instance, if a colleague is consistently late for work, you can label them as lazy or indolent.

However, if you are late for work, you will blame it on the alarm clock not beeping on time.

There is another motive for us to assign blame to others.

Psychoanalysts believe that our ego defends itself against anxiousness through projection; a defence mechanism in which we take out our undesirable emotions and features and blame them on other individuals.

As a result, you frequently find yourself blaming others for your behaviour.

The defence mechanism is always indicative of a lack of mindfulness of our emotions and intentions.

Due to the fact that defence mechanisms are frequently unconscious, a person who is projecting on you is unlikely to be aware of what they are doing, for instance, blame-shifting.

So, the next time you catch yourself blaming others for your own behaviour, try to be more mindful of your emotional reactions and think about what is really motivating you rather than simply reacting on impulse.

What are the consequences of blame-shifting?

When one person in a relationship continually shifts blame to their partner, it can have a number of negative consequences.

When one partner in a marriage continuously shifts blame to the other, it can have serious consequences for the relationship.

For example, blame-shifting can lead to a lot of resentment and bitterness and can cause partners to start viewing each other as enemies instead of allies.

It can also be very damaging to the trust that exists between partners and can make it difficult to resolve conflicts.

Ultimately, blame-shifting can be a major contributor to the breakdown of a marriage.

In a marriage, blame-shifting can be an effort to try to maintain an illusion of being a good and loving person.

Many people believe that blame-shifting is the reason why codependents are so likely to be involved in abusive relationships.

1. Blame-shifting can damage the trust and respect that exists between spouses

When one partner in a marriage continuously shifts blame to the other, it can cause an atmosphere of mistrust and resentment.

Eventually, the partner that has been blamed for things becomes the person that is resented by the other partner.

This resentment and anger can lead to more blaming and shifting, which will likely destroy the marriage.

When blame-shifting happens continually over many years, it can become a very destructive pattern in marriage.

2. Blame-shifting can contribute to the unhealthy relationship dynamic

In a codependent/possessive relationship, blame-shifting is used as a tactic to get someone to do what you want them to do.

The individual being blamed can be blamed for anything and everything that is going wrong in the relationship.

When blame-shifting is continually used as a tactic in an unhealthy relationship, it will usually lead to an unhealthy relationship dynamic.

3. Blame-shifting can result in interpersonal manipulation

When blame-shifting occurs constantly and repeatedly, it is likely to become part of an abusive relationship dynamic.

In an abusive relationship, blame-shifting is used as a form of manipulation and control.

The person who is blamed usually has to do whatever the other person wants, even if it is something he/she does not want to do.

In an abusive relationship, the focus is on what the person who is blamed wants and not on why the blaming was done.

4. Blame-shifting can result in a poor self-image

When blame-shifting occurs repeatedly over time, it can lead to a poor self-image.

An individual who has been blamed for things they did not do will eventually come to believe they are bad and unlovable.

Self-esteem can be damaged when blame-shifting occurs.

If a person is regularly blamed for things that are not their fault, they are unlikely to believe they are good people.

This will cause an individual to doubt their self-worth.

5. Blame-shifting can hurt those around you

Blame-shifting can cause relationships to deteriorate and people to feel uncomfortable when they are around a person who blames others.

When a person blames others for things they have not done, it can make other people feel bad about themselves.

This can cause tension and create stress in the relationship.

how to respond to blame-shifting

For example, if a husband blames his wife for being late for dinner, he is most likely to be angry and frustrated.

Instead of doing the dishes, he will blame his wife for being late and likely become angry or angry and frustrated.

This anger and frustration will create tension and stress in the relationship.

This can create unhealthy relationships where the blame-shifter blames others and people blame the blame-shifter.

So, with all of that in mind, it now becomes a question of how to respond to blame-shifting which we’ll look at next.

How to respond to blame-shifting

1. Respond with understanding

Not every blame-shifter is angry.

If a spouse blames the car for not working or if a child blames the school for bad grades, it is best to respond with understanding.

If the blame-shifter is not angry it can help to understand their point of view.

A response that works well is “I understand how you feel and I see what you mean.” I have done the same thing, and I know what you mean. When things do not work out, we can talk about it.”

Saying “I understand” also sends a signal that you are interested in finding solutions together and will be involved in the conversation.

2. Respond with purpose

When a blame-shifter is angry it can be helpful to respond with “I hear you.”

This signalizes your willingness to communicate and helps to calm the blaming person down.

3. Be empathetic

When the blame-shifter is angry, respond with “I can see where you are coming from.”

You are essentially saying that you understand their perspective, and they will most likely feel validated as a consequence, potentially de-escalating the situation and leading to a better outcome.

4. Limit your own blaming

Remember that the blame-shifter is the person responsible for his or her own feelings.

So don’t let your own feelings of anger lead you to blame-shifting too.

Instead, take responsibility for your own feelings, then listen and respond.

5. Don’t give advice

This is the most difficult thing to do.

Don’t let a blaming person direct you into giving advice.

Instead, just listen to them and respond with “I hear you.”

how to respond to blame-shifting

If you do give advice, be very specific and clear about your perspective, but don’t try to “fix” a problem by telling the blame-shifter what to do.

6. Use positive feelings to help them feel better

If you can find a positive way to help a blaming person feel better, do it.

If you can’t think of a positive way, accept them the way they are and help them get through it.

You’re not a counsellor, and you don’t have to fix them or improve them, so let them take responsibility for their own feelings.

7. Don’t reinforce their negativity

Sometimes the blame-shifter is trying to unload their anger by telling you how angry they are.

Avoid repeating their complaints and reinforce the positive.

This can lessen the spread of blaming.

8. Calm the blame-shifter

Often, the blame-shifter is feeling so overwhelmed that they don’t know what to do next.

Ask them if they’d like to just sit down and discuss their feelings, or they might want to talk to a counsellor or therapist

9. Do not argue

Blame-shifters are just trying to defend themselves, so do not argue or try to refute their arguments.

They will get defensive and they will close down, as they are not in a good state of mind, so there is no point in trying to argue with them at that point in time.

Focus on yourself, not the blame-shifter.

Do not focus your energy on fixing the problem.

That will make it worse, so focus on yourself and your feelings.

10. Discuss choices or options

Some blame-shifters are often just really irrational.

They are not making good decisions.

Ask them what they would like to do instead.

This will help them to process their feelings a bit better.

They may even choose the right thing to do.

If not, that’s ok, just go with your own feelings and make the decision.


When couples argue, they often try to shift the blame to their partner in order to make themselves look better.

However, when blame-shifting becomes a habit in your marriage it can be damaging to the relationship, as it can prevent the couple from resolving the issues at hand.

If you find yourself engaging in blame-shifting, it is important to stop and focus on resolving the issue at hand.

This can be difficult, but it is important for the health and longevity of your marriage.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of, a renowned relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website shares valuable insights on creating healthy relationships life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling more than a decade ago. In addition, he since completed post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as and The Good Men Project.

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