19th October, 2008
I am married to a man who cannot accept that he is ever wrong. He always blames others. He also re-invents the past to paint a picture where his wrong actions were carried out by someone else - mainly me. This can be anything from a very minor thing to a serious matter.
This is not only annoying but worrying. I am afraid that he is building up resentment against me for all my alleged sins - his wrongdoings which he is falsely remembering as being mine. I am not imagining this. My teenage children have even twigged it. But when they take him up on it, he doesn't believe them. He actually believes his false memory, no matter how many people testify to the contrary.
What can I do? He was brought up by very authoritarian parents who doled out severe punishment for even the slightest wrong. And apparently he was a child who always told the truth, owned up if he'd done something, and took the punishment.
The awful legacy of punitive parents is that they create self-punitive sons and daughters. It's not that your husband suffered in the past. He has suffered all his life. He's still doing so.
Inside your husband's head is a voice which judges him so harshly that he can't live with himself. He can't manage mistakes. He can't face the reality of who he is, namely a flawed human being like everyone else. So he invents an alternative reality, one in which all the mistakes are made by others. That way, he avoids the harsh judgments he makes of himself - or at least softens such harshness.
I know it's hard to handle. It may help to see that it has nothing whatsoever to do with you. As you are already aware, your husband's blame game doesn't just involve you. He's simply shifting responsibility onto you, not because you're you, but because you're someone other than himself. I'm sure he does the same everywhere - it's the stupid cat, the cup placed by someone else on the edge of the table, the lazy work-colleague, the unreliable post - whatever. When something goes wrong, it's never him. This is not about punishing others. It's your husband's desperate attempt to avoid punishing himself.
The way we fashion the world is a creative process of survival. As a small boy, your husband confessed early and took his punishment from his parents. That undoubtedly seemed the safest way to go. Having the fear of parental anger hanging over him was too heavy a burden to bear. Better to be up-front and get it over with, facing the music much easier than the awful imagining of what it would be like. Remember, psychologically speaking, he feared for his very life. He also accepted the picture his parents painted, namely that minor misbehaviour, mistakes, failure to follow the rules, were all serious crimes.
That creative process of survival doesn't cease. As an adult, your husband still saw ordinary human frailty as a crime. As psychologists would say, he internalised the harshness of parental judgment. But away from the actual physical power of his parents, and the immediate dread of extinction, he also learned the art of putting the blame elsewhere - at least at one level of his consciousness. Thus he created his comfort zone. Mistakes were bad, as he had learned to his cost in childhood. But it was other people who made them. That gave him the comfort he needed.
You have two questions. Does your husband really believe his deeds were actually yours? And what can you do? I hope the answer to the second question is now a little more obvious. Your husband's harsh judgment of mistakes has to be softened. In simple terms, you don't tell him it was his deed, and not of your doing. You tell him that it doesn't matter, whatever it was. You are both good people, have reared a family and done your duty to society, and don't need to do yourselves down. On the contrary, you have to forgive yourselves your mistakes and take proper pride in all your achievements. Being human is OK must be the motto.
Does he believe his blame game? Not really, I would suspect. How we see reality shifts anyway. If your husband fears your anger, or judgment - not least because he shares what he believes is your bad opinion of him - then he'll dig himself deep into the hole of self-delusion. In that state, he'll believe all the so-called 'bad' things were done by you, not him. If, on the other hand, he experiences your gentle kindness and acceptance, he won't have the same need to dodge responsibility.
Don't be defensive. It's not that he wants you to be labelled as the baddie. Your husband is just looking for somewhere to park his pain. Ease his pain, and the blame game will ease with it.