Shame is a powerful issue in many people’s lives. It is often powerful and one doesn’t even realize that it is banging hard on the door. Shame can get in the way of couples doing their own work because the partners don’t realize that shame is flying around inside oneself and being tossed at the partner. One answer lies in looking to ones own feelings, and to look for when ones feelings are engorged by shame.
A couple that I know were talking about an argument that they had. One indicator that shame might have been part of the argument was that feelings escalated rapidly. As the couple processed, that is, as the couple talked about the argument without blame they found out more about what was motivating self as well as partner. Think about “without blame” in the last sentence: to re-look at a difficult conversation between the partners “without blame” at least partially means “without shaming one another or oneself.” And as the two talked, without blame, without shaming, it came out how much shame (“I felt like you were blaming me” and “I felt like it was all my fault” and “I can’t do anything right” and “You were scolding me” are examples) was actually muddying up the waters.
Therefore, one powerful key to helping couples work with each other, to help you and your partner talk about a difficult interaction, is to look for how you are shaming and blaming your partner and how your are shaming and blaming yourself. It feels awful to be in the middle of an argument with lots of shame and blame being tossed around. One answer, if you trust your partner, is to open up more, be vulnerable about how ashamed you feel, how you shame yourself, and about how you may have been shaming your partner. Don’t expect your partner to reciprocate in kind, your partner may not be ready, but realize there is health in you being vulnerable with your partner and there is health in you being intimate and revealing your self without expection of him/her doing the exact same thing. If your partner hears you, that is important. If you partner can also share, that is better, but not always possible.
Dr. Robert G. Kraft is a career psychologist in Omaha, NE. He earned his doctorate, as well as his bachelors and masters before that, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Has practiced in Nebraska ever since.
As well as maintaining his practice, Dr. Kraft is an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Creighton University School of Medicine, where he teaches residents about psychotherapy.