All of us have made excuses at one time or another for the bad behavior of someone close to us. Because we care about them and are loyal to them, we defend their actions, usually by attempting to explain circumstances that excuse it.
“I’m sorry Charlie is so late, he’s under a ton of pressure at work right now.”
“Of course there’s nothing going on between them, he’s just a friend from college.”
“Sam has a very sarcastic sense of humor, but when you get to know him he is really sweet!”
“I know Julie’s kind of a mess, but she means well. She had a hard time growing up – her parents had a very ugly divorce.”
While the impulse to understand and empathize with someone else’s struggles is admirable, at some point you have to take their behavior at face value. If Julie’s a mess, she’s probably not going to make a very good Girlfriend. If Charlie works 100 hours a week and consistently flakes on plans, he’s not a good candidate for Boyfriend.
There’s a difference between understanding a person from arm’s length and justifying their behavior to better fit in with your own desires. We rewrite history – and the future – by constructing tortured narratives that we hope will get us to our hoped for relationship destination. Instead of a straight path forward – which is what relationships ideally follow – we create a crazy, loopy Candyland sort of path leading to Happy Ever After. The problem is, just as in Candyland, there are many potential pitfalls and obstacles along the way.
When we try to spin someone’s behavior for others, we usually don’t succeed. To people outside the relationship, our feeble attempts to make someone look “not as bad as they seem” are obvious and ineffective. We’re not fooling anyone. And perhaps that’s not the point – because the script we adopt is meant to deceive ourselves. We hope others will “buy” our version of events and validate our choice to remain with someone who doesn’t treat others well.
Of course, we all have bad days, bad moods, less than stellar moments. When we do behave badly we apologize for it, or should. When we don’t, that responsibility does not fall to someone else.
Never explain, defend, excuse, absolve, vindicate, justify, rationalize, plead, interpret, clarify, translate or apologize for the behavior of your partner. If you find it necessary to do so, this is not the right relationship for you. Let go of the loser to let go of the burden, embarrassment and shame that you feel every time they behave badly.
This is the tenth post in a series. Previous posts include: