September 09, 2014

Lame Excuses - Why we make them. How to stop.

Not too long ago the internet lit up over the husband who became so exasperated at his wife’s excuses for not having sex that he printed out an Excel spread sheet detailing each one.  While very funny, this incident also provides an excellent opportunity to talk about a relational annoyance that everyone experiences, and which can cause serious problems in a marriage: Lame Excuses. Today we’re going to talk about excuses: Why we make them up. How to tell the difference between a sincere explanation an excuse. How you can be more direct and stop making excuses.

1. Why do we make them up ?
Excuses are plausible explanations which attempt to externalize and avoid personal responsibility for problematic behavior e.g. either something we did that was unwanted or didn’t do which was expected. The message of an excuse is some variation of  “I wanted to ( didn’t want to) but I couldn’t help it.” 

Lame excuses can become a serious problem in a relationship because they create a false impression which also leads to resentm

ent.  The underlying problem is fear. We make excuses  because we are afraid of  what will happen if we tell the truth, i.e. is someone is going to get angry, criticize or even reject and abandon us if we don’t go along with what is expected.

2. How to tell a sincere explanation from a lame excuse ?
Many times there are legitimate reasons that things go wrong and it is important to tell the difference between a sincere explanation and a bogus excuse. Fortunately there are a couple of tell-tale signs that help us out.

Sincerity is expressed by a lack of defensiveness and a willingness to engage the problem by, in addition to offering an explanation, making a counter proposal if the original demand is unacceptable. For example, when declining an invitation to have sex, a sincere explanation could have offered another time when she would be in the mood. 

An excuse is a defensive, non-interactive tactic to simply avoid the problem and view it as unsolvable. No attempt is made to negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome.

3. Tips to help you to be more direct and to stop making excuses:

1) Know what you want and realize that you have a right to your own preferences and to say no.
2) Learn to communicate effectively. Speak respectfully in stating your position and use I-statements. (No abusive language or name calling or blaming.) 
3) Learn to negotiate and compromise. Learn how to make a counter proposal. Don’t give up. Keep going until you find a mutually agreeable arrangement. An example of a counter proposal from the wife who wasn’t interested in sex because she was too tired might have been, “How about tomorrow morning after I’ve had a chance to get some sleep?” or in a different key, “I don’t want to have sex because I’m angry with you and we need to talk about that first.”     

Practice, practice, practice. Learning to be direct takes experience and time.

Oh one more thing. Just as the cause of the problem of excuse making was fear, the solution is safety and security.  Remember being honest and direct requires two people: Besides the person who can tell the truth,  the person who listens must be able to hear the truth. (Remember Jack Nicolson in a Few Good Men? “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth.”) 

Conflicts need to be dealt with safely. Eliminating excuses is a team effort.  You need a partner who can handle frustration constructively and not resort to violence or other manipulative and punitive tactics when s/he don’t get his/her way. 

Although it takes effort, learning to be honest and direct is a blessing which will immeasurably enrich your marriage throughout your life.

The Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC, prepared these remarks for Bridge Street  9 9 2014

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