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Don't Justify It!

As a relationship therapist I do a lot of observing of the dynamics between couples.  While the clients are mostly focused on their story, I need to look at how their interactions might be preventing them from achieving their relationship or personal goals.  Of course there are many possible dynamics that might need to get addressed.  But one dynamic that has caught my attention recently is the tendency for couples to justify their needs, thoughts, or feelings.  On the surface, one would think that putting forth reasons would be helpful to finding a solution.  However, I have noticed the opposite.  When people start explaining why, there is a subtle shift in the conversation.  By default there is an implication that you have to have a good reason, and a reason that your partner agrees with in order to be entitled to your position.  Instead of looking at possible ways to accommodate, the focus shifts to the validity of your needs.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about.  My husband and I are at Nordstrom’s and I see a great pair of black shoes.  I want them.  I voice my desire.  My partner counters with asking me if I really need another pair of black shoes, and reminding me of the numerous pairs of black shoes that I already possess.  I am now on the defensive and scrambling for a valid reason to get those shoes, which I’m probably not going to find (I do have a lot of black shoes). I now feel disappointed and defensive.  I’m also feeling somewhat controlled.  He has become the arbiter of what I do and don’t need.  My thought?  “Hey, how come you get to be the boss of me?!”  I feel like I’m talking to my mother, not to an equal partner in my relationship.

This scenario could be reversed by placing us at Home Depot with my husband drooling over another type of power tool.  Me: “How many types are there, for heaven’s sake; you don’t even use the ones you already have!”

The above scenarios lead to disharmony in the relationship.  Instead of being on the same team and reaching for solutions, the partners become adversaries.

I don’t think adults should have to justify their wants.  Actually even kids shouldn’t need to justify.  There are innumerable reasons why we sometimes don’t get what we want.  Often the desire is out of reach financially or practically (“I know you really want a lion, Bobbie, but we just don’t have the space right now”).  I like that response.  It supports Bobbie’s desire, without putting him down.  Bobbie feels entitled to want what he wants, he learns that it’s not always possible, but there’s no crime in dreaming.

Back to the black shoes.  The only question that is relevant is whether we can afford the black shoes (or power tools).  Desires that put the relationship or family at risk should probably not be realized.  But healthy families encourage each member’s hopes, dreams, feelings, thoughts, etc. and try to find the ways to make them happen.


I was thinking about this as I watched the Olympics.  Many of the athletes would never have made it without the support and often sacrifice of their families.  Of course it’s not possible for every family to provide that level of support, but supporting the dream and giving what you can promotes hope, ingenuity, creativity and a better sense of self. The family becomes your advocate instead of your killjoy.

Just to be clear lest you think I’m advocating unbridled greed and selfishness: Wanting is fine.  Getting depends.  We are all entitled to have our dreams.  We are not by definition entitled to have them met (see above

Nordstrom conversation: 

Me:             “I really want those black shoes”
Husband:  “Can we afford them?”
Me:              “Yes”
Husband:  “ I’ll meet up with you in power tools”.




Check out the new video on How to Have a Fair fight.
Also see Emotional Maturity by clicking on the title. I hope you'll find it useful.


Sally LeBoy, M.S. MFT (14768)
>> Don't Justify It!
>> Guidlines for couples Communication
>> Being Alone
>> Appreciation
>> The Holidays (Again)
>> A Bitter Taste of My Own Medicine
>> Sex!!!
>> Do I Do too Much?
>> Managing Emotions
>> How to Have a Fight
>> Emotional Maturity