Did he expect her to thank him for that? “So you think that excuses your behavior?”
“No, it just explains it.”
- Kathy Coatney
I read this in a Coatney novel recently, and it struck a nerve. Even without the context of the whole interaction, it’s clear she was nonplussed with his behavior, and used to hearing excuses. He was smart to differentiate an excuse from an explanation, although the definitions can bleed into one another.
Excuse, according to Oxford Languages means, “Attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify.”
Explain means, “Make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas.” The second definition is: “Account for (an action or event) by giving a reason as excuse or justification.”
People can go a day without sex. Yet many people can’t go a day without a justification, whether it is verbalized or internalized.
Communication is already fraught in so many ways. Being clear and explicit helps. Even if you are vulnerable or embarrassed at times. Most people would rather have clear communication, and know what they’re dealing with.
No, that doesn’t mean people don’t tell white lies to move social situations along. You don’t have to tell her she looks fat in those jeans, or tell him his comb over is obvious, etc.
Excuses and justifications actually make you look bad. Honest, humble pie generally goes over much better with your partner, especially if it’s accompanied by empathy (vs. apology). If your partner ridicules, or holds it against you, or throws it in your face at a later date when you attempt an honest conversation, there’s work to be done between you.
Explaining doesn’t always go well, either. Especially if you “explain” often. And especially if you go on and on. Be brief. Be kind. Listen to the other person’s response, and respond – not react. Useful explanations stick to facts, and leave out editorializing.
Here’s an example:
“I was just trying to help since this is my area of expertise.” As opposed to “I was just trying to help because you always mess this up.” You get the idea, right?
Mansplaining doesn’t fly either. “The explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Unfortunately both genders do this.