Let’s talk about that thing you just said. You know, like a minute ago. The person you’re dating/talking to/seeing hasn’t texted you back — it’s been a while — and in order to explain this behavior to someone, you claimed that “they’re just busy.” It seems like an innocent enough thing to say in response to, well, no response. But this excuse and others like it are detrimental to you, your dating life, and your relationships.
“When we’re in relationships that make us feel unsettled and anxious, we try to justify,” says Gabrielle Morse, LMHC, psychotherapist at Manhattan Wellness Associates. “It’s a survival strategy. [People] will often make excuses because they’re afraid of facing the truth and being alone. It [can] also protect [you] from the idea of rejection — being honest and saying, ‘maybe they’re just not that interested’ is hard.”
No one is trying to tell you rationalizing someone’s behavior is an easy mental dance to stop. Letting your imagination run wild is a basic human urge (and also, my brand). You might say or think things like:
- When someone’s not responding, it’s because they’re taking a nap.
- When someone’s not making time for you, it’s because they’re super stressed at work.
- When someone doesn’t integrate you into their life, it’s because they’re just not ready yet.
- When someone’s being a jerk, it’s because they had a tough day.
Sound familiar? Sure, in the moment it feels like you sewed up the wound of anxiety and spiraling, but what you’re really doing is ignoring important underlying questions.
“As you’re making these excuses, you’re creating a vision in your head of what you think the relationship is or what you want it to be,” says Morse. “Rather than fixating on the person’s behavior and whether or not they like you, [work to] focus on if your needs are being met. Rather than trying to understand the person’s logic, ask yourself, Is this relationship satisfying for me?”
If someone treats you poorly, don’t make excuses for them,” says Morse. “There are ways to empathize with someone while still advocating for yourself and creating boundaries.
I’m definitely guilty of focusing on my partner’s actions before my own feelings. I had a boyfriend who would (among other annoying things) drop off of the earth for huge chunks of time without warning — something he learned to do as a coping mechanism from his upbringing. I hated it, yet always made excuses for him, both to others and myself, and never told him how I felt, figuring I shouldn’t because of what he had been through (and there I am with the excuses again). I struggled with balancing my feelings of empathy and neglect. Doing so not only created problems in the short term, but it also spurred a slew of issues, which have continued to show up in my relationships since.
“If someone treats you poorly, don’t make excuses for them,” says Morse. “There are ways to empathize with someone while still advocating for yourself and creating boundaries. Every day you continue with a person who isn’t meeting your needs or is treating you this way, you’re teaching them that’s OK.” This presents an issue for your future self, as well, because it establishes a pattern of denial and repression. It may cause you to overlook other harmful behaviors, like gaslighting you in every argument and ignoring your needs and emotions. Bottling that shit up is no good — it will come out at one point or another. Whether the excuse is big (“they’re lashing out at me because their parents treated them badly”), or small (“they haven’t answered my texts or calls — their dinner must have gone long”), justifications don’t save us from feeling pain; they inevitably delay it.
“You want to remind yourself of the facts,” says Morse. “There’s no evidence for the conclusion you’re trying to make.” All you know, for example, is that you haven’t gotten a text. There could be a thousand reasons why. Morse recommends thinking through the evidence for and against the “because” you’ve drummed up, because often when you start to challenge your way of thinking, your irrational thoughts lose their power. Then, you can focus on what’s real.