God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden a direct question: “Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Ever since the beginning we have been reluctant to accept personal responsibility for our actions, and have made every attempt to pin the blame on someone else. We often do this in our communications with our spouse.

Consider this simple example. Is it better to say “You made me mad just now,” or to say “I was mad with you just now?” In the first case, we are blaming the other person for making us mad. In the second case, we are accepting responsibility for our own reaction. Our reason for being mad may or may not be valid, but we are acknowledging that it is our feeling and we are taking responsibility for it.

We see this practice of focusing the blame on others being demonstrated in the top leadership in our country. None of us are immune from it. Why are we so quick to point the blame at someone else? Let’s consider a number of possible reasons equally applicable in the biggest bureaucracy right down to the vital and intimate bureaucracy of our marriage.

The number one reason is probably found in that old bugaboo – our selfish nature. We want to protect ourselves from any harm, and hence we are unwilling to admit responsibility for any negative actions. If we can point the finger at someone else, they take the fall, not us.

If we are not connected with God and feel like we are all we have, then we believe we have the ultimate responsibility for our own protection and will exercise that responsibility at all costs. We enter marriage thinking primarily of the benefits we will derive. When we don’t get what we want or feel threatened, we attack or retreat, but in either case it’s not our fault and the marriage suffers.

The second reason for blaming others is that we live in a performance-oriented world. We live under the law. If we don’t perform in accordance with the law, we don’t get rewarded and may get punished.

By law I am referring to any rule or guideline governing our behavior. Whether it is laws against stealing property, what’s required of us at work or how to behave at a party, we have expectations laid upon us all the time. We can’t satisfy all those “laws,” so we shift the blame for failure to someone else in order to avoid the negative consequences of failure to perform adequately and/or the punishment for breaking the “law.”

The only way to overcome our desire to protect ourselves and keep from shame, blame and punishment is to take the focus off self. Altruism is the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. Although the idea is attractive, I suggest its application is extremely difficult on our own. It goes against all the natural laws of behavior.

True selflessness is demonstrated by Jesus Christ who, innocent as he was, died as punishment for our selfish behavior. Jesus is more than just a role model, however. He was also raised from the dead, and by his death and resurrection it is possible for us to live a life free from the pressures of performance and blame.

Good marriages occur when husband and wife follow Jesus’ example, acknowledge responsibility for their actions, accept what Jesus did on their behalf and love one another with the unconditional love demonstrated by Jesus.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.