Are You Guilty of Whataboutism in Your Marriage?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately on the topic of whataboutism. Don’t know what that is? It’s defined as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue” (Oxford Dictionaries).

Basically, it’s when one person says, “So-and-so did this bad thing.” And the other person replies, “Yeah, well, what about so-and-so and their bad thing?” You hear it in politics all the time. In American politics, it often comes across this way: “Democrat A did this terrible thing,” to which someone replies, “Yeah, well, what about Republican B and the terrible thing they did?” Or switch Democrat/Republican. Not surprisingly, such debates go nowhere.

If neither side will ever admit that someone actually did something wrong or unwise, and their entire defense is that someone else in the universe also does bad things, how can any progress be made to improve the situation? It just starts sounding like a bad playground fight with yo-mama insults tossed from one fool to the other and back again.

But before we all feel so superior that we would never be such fools, let me ask: Are you guilty of whataboutism in your marriage?

blog post title + older married couple arguing

I’ll be the first to raise my hand. I’ve totally done this in the middle of an argument. You know how this goes:

Him:  You said you’d pick up my dry cleaning, but it’s been three days and you haven’t done it.
Her: Yeah, well, what about that weird sound our dishwasher makes that I told you about last week?

OR

Her: We haven’t been on a date in forever, because you’re always working.
Him: Yeah, well, what about when I suggested we take dance lessons and you didn’t want to do that?

OR

Him: I want us to make love more often, because I really miss it.
Her: Yeah, well, I want you to talk to me more, but it’s not like that’s happening.

Honestly, these aren’t like the yo-mama insults, because both parties have a point. The dry cleaning should get picked up, and the dishwasher should be fixed. He might need to stop working so much, and she might need to be more open to new experiences. They should make love more often and talk more.

The problem is that the reply is a deflection tactic. It’s a way to avoid talking about the subject your spouse brought up, to defend yourself by attacking back, and to feel superior to your spouse by pointing out something you’re doing right and they’re doing wrong.

This often happens in the comments section of marriage blogs. When a suggestion is made for a spouse to address an issue, sometimes he or she responds with, “Yeah, well, my spouse…” and then they go on to identify all the awful stuff their spouse is doing. And sure, they oftentimes reveal serious problems their spouse should deal with. But it’s also a way to avoid looking at what you really ought to address with yourself.

Even if your spouse is 90% of the problem, you need to deal with your 10%.

Even if your spouse is 90% of the problem, you need to deal with your 10%. Click To Tweet

If your spouse or someone else points out that something’s a problem, resist the temptation to switch the topic. Deal with the issue brought up. If you can resolve that one, you can move on to other issues and deal with those.

But using whataboutism just ensures that no issue really gets addressed and resolved. It becomes a battle of who’s worse, and you know what?

  • For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT).
  • Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

And if you think you’re not guilty of committing a sin against your spouse, maybe this one is you:

  • If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Next time you’re tempted to start your reply to a complaint from your spouse, or a suggestion from someone else about your marriage, with “Yeah, well, my spouse…” stop yourself. Ask whether your spouse has a point. Even if they word it very poorly (and we often do), dig into what their grievance says about their feelings and what they long to have in your marriage. Figure out how to address that issue and resolve it.

Also read blog posts and books about sexual intimacy with this in mind. As well as the Bible — especially the Bible. It’s not written for everyone else; it’s written for you and me. It’s convicting us. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now what about that?

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6 thoughts on “Are You Guilty of Whataboutism in Your Marriage?

  1. E

    LOVE ❤️😍

    SO convicting! Even while reading this post, I was thinking ‘yeah, my spouse does that!’ (Duh, how thick can I get?!) 😋 So thank you. Also, thanks for talking about this topic without the plank/splinter scripture, because while that is SO relevant, I think it is so well-used that it sometimes isn’t actually ‘heard’ any more, just glanced over.

    Examining my heart attitude and motives behind my actions (even ‘good’ actions) is something I have been working on. So many times I have found that I am doing the ‘good’ thing to try to bring glory to myself, rather than glorifying God, or doing it as a living sacrifice to the Lord. So, even though I am a MUCH improved version of myself as a pre-Christian, there is still such a long way for me to go!
    One scripture that I have found convicting and encouraging in this regard is James 1:27
    “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep ONESELF unstained from the world.”

    I think that means that I am supposed to concern myself with making sure I do right, and not overly concern myself with making sure everyone else is doing right!

    Reply
  2. Jessica Craig

    I will totally admit to having done this occasionally but this is my husband’s go to response for ANYTHING I try to talk to him about. Any suggestions if it really isn’t me that does this most of the time? I feel totally invalidated every time I try to bring up something that my husband has done that has hurt my feelings or was insensitive. It’s like he doesn’t even hear me!!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I experienced some of that with my husband years ago, and I realized that a lot of it was my tone. (Actually, in my defense, I think my tone was just fine; however, he thought it was overly expressive — likely due to different families of origin.) Since I wasn’t getting my message across, I worked on my startup. Here’s a little something from The Gottman Institute on Softening Your Startup, but you might also want to try different things to see what works with your own relationship. I personally think we tend to talk too much and ask questions and listen too little. Once the other person feels like they’ve had a chance to say their things without criticism, they’re more likely to hear you out.

      One other tip I learned: Just keep bringing it back to the issue at hand. When your spouse uses whataboutism, just validate that issue but then come back to yours? Calmly. Like “You’re right. I really need to work on that. But I also want us to solve this other problem too.” (That’s just attitude, not actual words, but you get the point.) Hope something here helps, Jessica!

      Reply
  3. Ashley

    Like one of your other commenters, I thought of how my husband could sure use some improvement in this area! 😜 Then I had to face the fact that I’m not perfect yet, and I likely need to work on this more than I want to realize. Thanks for another good post, J.

    Reply
  4. LDM

    Many years ago a woman who was a co-worker with my wife told her that she kept a book listing all her husband’s misdeeds. She used it to memorize things to bring up when he criticized her for something. I bet you anything they are not married any longer.

    Reply

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