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Blame and the Marital ICU [On Love]

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Blame no one. If you can, correct the offender; if you can’t, correct his offense; and if not even that’s possible, what’s the point in looking for someone to blame? – Marcus Aurelius

As I am certain happens with most couples that have been together for years, if not decades, my wife and I ran into a rough emotional patch once, not characterized by extreme emotion, but just distance. It was a distance with a quiet, yet forceful undercurrent of blame.

When you live with someone for so long, major catastrophes of the heart are easily avoided if both of you are already intent on not just being good partners or parents, but more fundamentally, being good humans.

Yes, avoiding broken bones or head trauma to the figurative body of one’s union is easy, but there is another danger, which is more akin to a cancer or virus; and that is the growth of little blames and grudges as the earth makes more and more revolutions around the sun.

Initially, they seem not to be important, whether it is how one’s partner chooses to squeeze the toothpaste tube (clearly—rolling it up from the bottom is the proper way), or how often they want coitus, or how much income tax should be withheld from your collective paychecks.

Those little growths, although seemingly benign to begin with, can increase in size and severity, and if left unchecked, can lead to a trip to the Marital ICU, and a positing of the question: Do we request that the doctors put a “Do Not Resuscitate” sticker on the case file?

While in this emotional desert with my wife, one evening I sat down with my collection of notes on the ancient Roman Stoics, let the notebook open where it may, and Fortune was being kind that day; for the first words that jumped at me were these:

Blame no one.

Marcus Aurelius and the other Stoics were brilliant in their approaches to many of life’s obstacles—death, grief, fame, money, depression—and it is apparent when they comment on the human condition, it would do well to pay attention to every single word and sentiment, especially since their thinking is based on reason, not faith.

So, there I am, more distant from my wife than I’d ever been since we first met; most mind training techniques I’d learned over the years seemed to be losing their hold, and Marcus is communicating to me from across the ages:

Blame no one.

I decided to attempt to follow his advice, and I am fortunate that I did.

Over the years, my wife, on occasion, would not live up to my expectations. She made errors in judgment that caused me suffering (or, as the Stoics would say, errors that I let cause me suffering): but I also realized she could say the exact same thing about me.

So, I consciously told myself…willed myself…not to blame her, for anything. Anything at all.

And in that moment, a massive weight on my heart and mind was then lifted.

I could breathe again.

To just see her for what she is in the here and now and the majority of the time.

What was I left with, now that acceptance, rather than blame, was at the forefront of my thought patterns?

The functional realization that she is a kind, intelligent, captivatingly beautiful, patient, and loving being that I am fortunate to have in my sphere of existence.

Yes, she has faults, but, so do I.

Blaming her for not living up to my expectations?

Not her problem.


Realizing that was the case meant I could do something about it.

Now, whenever she, or anyone else in the world for that matter, does something I don’t care for, there’s Marcus Aurelius whispering in my ear:

Blame no one.

Three little words that can be just as important as “I love you.”

Acta Non Verba: Memorize and internalize the quote at the start of this chapter, or one or more of the quotes below. Have a daily reminder placed somewhere in your life to keep “Blame no one” at the forefront of your thinking until it becomes a foundation stone in your character.

Ab Aeterno

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it, or resent it. – Epictetus

Forgive others for their misdeeds over and over again. This gesture fosters inner ease. Forgive yourself over and over again. Then try to do better next time. – Epictetus

Generally, we’re all doing the best we can. – Epictetus

There is no justice in blaming the individual for a failing shared by all men. – Seneca

If you can give up your opinion about what appears to cause you pain, then you cannot be harmed. – Marcus Aurelius

Stephen Sumner is a writer with over three decades experience studying what it means to have a good life. He has a BS in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University. His favorite pastimes include reading, fountain pens, and growing insanely hot peppers. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

Original, non-meme image from Rawpixel via

Categories: Love

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Stephen Sumner

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