Your Sunday was going pretty well. You were checking off chores left, right, and center—until it came to rearranging the glassware in the cabinet. The ultra-fancy glassware that only comes out on special occasions. You commandeer your partner to help you move the cabinet out from the wall. You count down from three… except they go on ‘one.’ In slow motion, one of your favorite tumblers plummets to the wooden floor, shattering into smithereens.
Your reaction is automatic. You shout: ‘What have you done? Why are you always like this?’
On paper, it’s an understandable reaction. It was a valuable piece. It held sentimental value. We’re all prone to unfair blaming from time to time. Often it’s easier in the moment to shirk responsibility than face up to something probably being our fault. But what if your response is actually just the tip of the iceberg, a sign of an entire pattern of resentment and annoyance lurking just below the waves? Are you being hard on your partner, or is the blame you place on them generally justifiable?
According to brand-new research, people judge the rightness or wrongness of an action by “morally irrelevant factors, such as outcomes and luck.” Maybe your partner was careless when moving the cabinet—but would you have reacted with the same vitriol if the tumbler had fallen but remained on its shelf, intact and unharmed? The researchers argue that, in many scenarios, it’s not intent that counts when judging who’s to blame, but outcome.
How do we assign blame for accidents?
This new research asserts that we sometimes experience a fundamental disconnect between intention and outcome. While children learn to separate these two aspects of assigning blame at a young age, all bets are off when a volatile third factor is introduced: negligence. Whether an accident is deemed blameworthy depends on if the person appears to have acted carelessly. However, if they do act carelessly but in that instance no accident occurs, they’re generally off the hook—because there were no ill intentions.
When it comes to the smashed tumbler, you experience a dilemma. You know deep down the accident was your fault, but because your partner was involved your moral judgment apparatus shifted gears, leading to you blame them. But shifting blame like this isn’t without consequences. You risk causing hurt and distrust if it keeps happening. It’s a good idea then, to acknowledge these feelings when they bubble up, and to try preventing their impact by channeling your emotion into a better understanding of your own responsibility, thereby minimizing the unnecessary wrath unleashed on your partner.
Being a better judge of your partner’s behavior benefits you both
There’s some complicated logic underlying these concepts. It’s natural to forget it all in an instant when a bad situation arises, especially when your partner’s role could be interpreted in several ways. As the researchers conclude, often we’re too easily influenced by outcomes rather than intentions when deciding who’s to blame for misfortune. But baseless blame can harm your relationship, so it’s worth working to recognize this trap of so-called “moral luck.”
There’s any number of reasons an accident can occur without negligence having played a part—or indeed intent. Tempting as it is to automatically ascribe your partner’s behavior to unconscious malice or disinterest, take a step back and assess before needlessly finger-pointing. Ask yourself why you’re blaming your partner. Does it stem from a dormant conviction that they’re untrustworthy—or worse, that they just don’t care all that much about you? Be sure of your biases before involving yourself in heedless blaming. In the long run, they could serve only to undermine the trust established over the course of your relationship.
Judging behaviour is always complicated, especially when it comes to your partner. You’re probably too close to the situation to make a proper and objective assessment of what’s happened.
Turn to a loved one for advice—or if you want an outside perspective, we can help. Maclynn International is a boutique, multi-award-winning introductions agency with offices in New York, California, and London. We’re not only world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles, but our matchmakers are also eminent relationship experts in their own right. So if you’re struggling with a relationship fraught with petty arguments—or you’re single and looking for someone of your very own to move that glassware cabinet with—get in touch today. Together let’s figure out what’s best both for you and your relationship.