How To Address A Partner Who Shifts The Blame In An Argument

Conflict is normal in relationships — there are even benefits to arguing with your significant other. However, healthy disagreements require accountability and both partners owning up to their mistakes. If you're caught in the blame game cycle, you may start to feel like bringing up relationship issues is a lost cause.


This cycle is often kicked off by blame-shifting, a toxic defense mechanism where one person blames someone or something else for their actions. "Blame shifting is typically done when one person has a complaint or frustration, and the receiving partner finds a way to shift the blame back, taking the focus and accountability off of themselves," Lindsey Ferris, a marriage and family therapist, explained to Paired. "This can often lead to escalating arguments because the original person making the complaint or frustration can get angry that the blame is shifting to them instead of being heard."

Blame-shifting can include pointing the finger at someone else when a problem arises, but it can show up in other ways too. Peg Streep, author of the book "Verbal Abuse: Recognizing, Dealing, Reacting, and Recovering," wrote on Psychology Today that blame-shifting can include gaslighting, using "bad timing" to side-step the argument, and eventually stonewalling to get out of the conversation. These techniques can create a frustrating gridlock, but there are ways out. Here's how to approach a partner who refuses to take responsibility.


Avoid using accusations and criticism

It's not your fault if a partner deflects or denies any wrongdoing. However, some communication styles may result in blame-shifting more than others. According to The Gottman Institute, a relationship research institute, criticism, such as when you criticize a partner's character, can trigger defensiveness. Similarly, blame begets blame. It's crucial to avoid blame when bringing up an issue with your partner and instead broach the subject in a non-accusatory way.


One way to do this, as psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz told MindBodyGreen, is to use "I" statements to describe your feelings and needs. If your partner deflects anyway, continue to use "I" statements (like, "I want to talk about this, and it matters to me that you listen to what I'm saying") in response.

You can also focus on commonalities at the start of the argument. For example, if you're upset that your partner worked overtime and came home later than agreed, you might start off by acknowledging that you both value work before discussing boundaries and what needs to change next time. That way, your S.O. may be less likely to become defensive and point the finger at you or something else.

Don't engage in the counterattack

If your partner resorts to blame-shifting during an argument, it can be tempting to volley the blame back at them, trapping you both in a never-ending pattern. Take the high road and don't engage or defend yourself. "Let the person finish, then redirect back to your complaint, even acknowledging that you want to hear what they have to say after you can talk about what you brought up," Lindsey Ferris told Paired. This keeps the attention on the original topic and shows your partner that you won't fall for their deflection.


If they stick to their guns and continue to cast blame on you, call a time-out. This gives your S.O. time to consider your perspective, without the argument escalating. Calmly tell them you're ending the conversation for now and will pick it up again at a specified time, such as in an hour or later that evening.

Call in a third party

Friendly reminder: A relationship should never feel like a battle, and your partner shouldn't feel like your opponent. If every argument becomes a you-against-me match, and your significant other struggles to take responsibility, it might be time to consult a professional. A therapist or couples counselor can help you and your partner adopt a healthier perspective and tackle problems as a team. In some cases, they may also be able to get through to your blame-shifting partner in a way that you alone can't.


Another reason why a professional may be necessary: Blame-shifting is a common sign of narcissism. It can be difficult to have a healthy relationship with a narcissist, especially without the support of a relationship therapist. If blame-shifting is only one piece of a bigger (and super-toxic) narcissism puzzle, consider attending couples counseling alongside your partner, explaining that you believe it would benefit both of you.

If they refuse to get help and continue to deny their role in relationship issues, consider if your relationship is worth staying in. Unless your partner starts practicing accountability, don't expect things to improve any time soon.