Like many couples, my husband and I fell into a pattern of blaming and criticizing each other for a litany of mostly small problems. Who was pulling more weight around the house, taking on more kid duty and pulling down better money. Sound familiar?

The blame and criticism cycle wreaks havoc on relationships because the blamer gets a gleeful hit of adrenaline, a “Ha Ha, I’m right feeling” that becomes addictive and is heaped on children, colleagues, the train conductor and the slow cashier.

A few months ago, Tim and I were inspired to give it up. Yes, go cold turkey and forget about who did a lousy job of loading the dishwasher, coming home late without calling, or bouncing a check. It was hard. Someone was wrong, right?

When agreed that when something happened, we would simply acknowledge that it happened and the consequences and wonder how it could be better next time. No finger pointing, and no accusations for a couple of weeks (well, we had a few slip ups).

Like swearing off ice cream, dropping blame and criticism is a hard diet to stick to, but in the end so worth it. We began to get used to the easy and comfortable feeling, instead of tensing up for attack.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Blaming and criticizing can go really, really deep. We thought we had it licked, and then realized while we weren’t blaming each other, we were still blaming ourselves when something went wrong.
  • When we listened hard, we discovered than blame and criticism had simply become part of the way we communicated, influenced by our own parents.
  • Giving up blaming means fewer adrenaline driven and distancing moments in our relationship.

So, you ask, what if something goes wrong with your partner, child or colleague? Get calm and present with a few deep breaths, and deal with it. Open up to exploring the feeling underneath the critique and commit to learning from it.

The best diet plan is making good agreements and taking responsibility for what happens when things fall apart and the dishes don’t get cleaned.