Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

When couples come in to see me for couple’s counseling, the biggest hurtle to overcome for them is the issue of who is responsible.  Both are pointing the finger at the other one. 

Jack and Jill come in with a problem. 

Jill reports that Jack doesn’t help around the house.  She states that she does all the cleaning, grocery shopping, scheduling with the kids and their social functions, as well as, working full time.

Jack reports that Jill never wants to have sex with him anymore. 

Jill states that if Jack would just help around the house and with the kids more, she’d have more time to even think about having sex.  But, the way it is, she feels resentful and angry with Jack most of the time and has no desire to have sex with him since he never helps her.

Jack states that Jill is always complaining about him not helping and when he does help, she criticizes him about how he’s not doing it right and then redoes it.  He wonders why he should even bother since she’s going to do it all over again anyway.

Jill wonders why Jack can’t do it right in the first place, so she doesn’t have to do it all over again and states that she wishes he’d either do it right or not at all, since it just makes more work for her when he does it all wrong.

Jack feels like he’s living with his mother and Jill feels like she has an extra child to take care of.

I think all of us have either had this experience, or have seen this dynamic happen with our parents, or have seen it happen watching our friends.  It’s a pretty common dynamic.

Each one is blaming the other.  Jack is thinking that if only Jill wouldn’t complain and be such a perfectionist and would have more sex with him, then the relationship would work a lot better.

Jill is thinking that if only Jack would act more responsible and help out more, then she’d feel more romantic toward him and the relationship would work better.

So, whose fault is it anyway?  And, how does this get fixed?

It’s actually both parties responsibility and once they understand what the hidden dynamic is and what is driving their behavior, it’s a rather easy fix.

Jill is a perfectionist.  She learned at a very early age that things had to be done a certain way, or she would either get punished, or love and affection would be taken away from her. 

As a busy mother who also works full time, it was an impossible job for her to live up to her own perfectionist standards and after she had her second child, she was quickly burning out and simply could not sustain her high standards.  Since having everything done a certain way was associated with being loved, when she couldn’t get it all done, she started feeling unloved and then projected this on to Jack.  She then wanted Jack to help so that the balance of love and affection could return. 

The problem was that Jack couldn’t read her mind and had no idea that things had to be done in a specific way.  The more he tried to please her, the more upset she would become until Jack just gave up and stopped trying.

This whole pattern fit perfectly for Jack, because he came from a household where a single mother raised him and his sister and the father wasn’t available.  There was no denying his mother anything she asked.  She was a powerhouse and demanded compliance from her children so they could survive.  Jack was not allowed to say no, nor did he even think of defying her.

Jack and Jill set up a dance together.  Jill became the mother, demanding exact compliance from Jack.  Jack became the son who had to do as mom said.

This is not a conscious dance.  In fact, both are acting out of their old programming, or conditioning and they don’t even see it.  The pattern becomes so entrenched that they can’t see a way out of it.

The Solution

Jill had to become aware that she was setting up an impossible job for herself.  She had to make some decisions about what was actually important to her and what she could let go.  The things that were important to her, she decided to do on her own so that she could have those things the way she wanted them.

She then learned how to ask Jack to take care of the kids, or to do the lesser important things.

Jack had to understand that Jill was not his mother.  That he had a right to say no, and that at the same time he had to come to an understanding that Jill wasn’t trying to be his mother, but in fact needed him to stand up to her and help her realize that she was demanding things that were inappropriate.

Once Jack saw Jill more as a little girl struggling for love and acceptance he was able to have compassion for her and help her sort out what was really important and what wasn’t.  He was also able to stand up to inappropriate demands and act like an adult with her.

Jill responded with gratitude.  When Jack stood up to her and helped with real problem solving, she was able to let go of some of her perfectionism and feel like she was being supported by an adult and she could then slack off more and give herself a break.  This resulted in her being more playful which allowed their sexual activity to increase. 

What happened, was that Jack was elevated from child status to an adult status, and Jill was demoted from parent status to adult status.

Nobody was at fault.  They just didn’t understand the dance between them, nor how to dance a different dance.

Couples get into these patterns and when they become entrenched, it’s difficult for them to see their way out of it on their own.  This is why it’s important to see a professional therapist or relationship coach who can help clarify the dance and help them understand what the dance is and then how to change it.

To your happiness,

Cindy Kludt,
your relationship coach, cindy@cindykludt.com