There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation.
An explanation is designed to give someone all of the facts, and lay out the cause for something. An excuse is designed to push the fault for that thing away from oneself.
Make sure that you use explanations frequently, and excuses sparingly.
Giving explanations for things is great. You guys know that I love having information – it’s one of the best reason to communicate! The more information we have, the better our decisions can be – decisions about how to proceed, what to do next, how to feel about something… Context is important, and we make our best decisions when we know what’s going on! If you give an explanation, you’re giving information.
When you do something wrong, it’s also important to give an explanation. That serves two purposes: it gives other people more information about why you did that wrong thing, and it gives you a chance to self-reflect, and really understand why you did that wrong thing. That will help you not repeat your actions.
Giving explanations can be simple.
– “I said that word because I didn’t realize it was a slur.”
– “I ran out of gas on my way home, and I had to walk to the nearest gas station.”
– “It slipped out of my hands and hit the ground.”
Each of these provides information to other people, so they understand what went one. Now, it’s what you say next that matters the most. Do you shift the blame onto other people, or circumstances out of your control, or do you acknowledge that someone got hurt, regardless of your intent?
– “I said that word because I didn’t realize it was a slur…”
How will this thoughts be completed? Will it acknowledge hurt, or shift blame?
“…no one told me it was a bad word before. Come on, you know I didn’t mean it that way.”
“…I hadn’t come across the historical context before, and I’m sorry that I used that word without knowing more about it. I understand that I hurt you, and that I need to be more careful in the future.”
– “I ran out of gas on my way home, and I had to walk to the nearest gas station….”
“…You didn’t refill the tank the last time you drove the car, so there wasn’t enough to get home in time for dinner.”
“…I didn’t check the gas gauge before I left work, so I wasn’t prepared for this to happen. Sorry that meant that I missed dinner.”
– “It slipped out of my hands and hit the ground…”
“…Andrew handed it to me before I was ready, and he let go, so I dropped it.”
“…I should have been paying more attention, because I know that vase meant a lot to you. I’m sorry I dropped it.”
Now, sometimes a bad thing is genuinely the fault of another person. We don’t want to be blamed or thought at fault for something that another person caused, or was at least out of our control. It’s important to us that we tell the person we hurt that it’s not us that did it to them. It’s someone else who is at fault.
I believe, though, that your explanation should not *end* with placing the blame elsewhere. Take the second example above. The person who was late for dinner wants to be clear that, had there been gas in the tank, they would have made it home on time, and that someone else should have put gas in the tank. But regardless of *why* the tank was empty, it’s important to acknowledge that being late hurt someone else’s feelings. You can apologize for how your lateness hurt them, even if you want to be clear that being late was out of your control.
“That thing I did hurt you, and I’m sorry for that.”
Y’all may have realized by now that I err a little more towards making apologies than some other sex and relationship advice bloggers. I think it’s integral for any healthy relationship to acknowledge hurt and negative emotions. Saying “it’s actually someone else’ fault that this thing happened, so stop looking at me!” may make you feel better, but it’s not going to stop someone from being hurt. If you have to aim fault, make sure you do it in a context of validating hurt and apologizing for the part that you took in it.
Remember – an excuse is designed to shift blame. If you had any part in what happened, make an explanation (which may provide more information about other people’s part in the incident), validate negative emotions, and apologize for what part you played in the outcome.