Rebuilding Trust – How To Explain Why Things Went Wrong

If you are the person who has done something wrong, usually a partner will want to know why you did what you did.

Giving an explanation for one’s behavior is important when trying to rebuild trust. Partners need to understand why things happened the way they did—without a reasonable explanation, partners often feel out-of-control and it is much harder for them to move on.

With that said, there are some useful guidelines when trying to explain one’s behavior.

First, explanations generally work best—after a partner’s feelings have been acknowledged and a sincere apology has been given. When caught doing something wrong, people often try to explain their behavior before their partners are ready to hear their explanation. There is a time and place for everything—the best time to give an explanation is when a partner asks for one.

When people give an explanation too quickly—it often looks and sounds like an excuse—a way of getting out of trouble.

Second, explanations work best when given in a constructive manner—that is, when they focus on the feelings underlying what happened without blaming a partner for what happened (see talk about problems).

For instance, if you lie to your wife to go golfing with your buddies because golfing takes time away from the family... and you get caught—when giving an explanation it is best to focus on your feelings. "I did not want to feel left out. Or I was worried that the guys would not respect me if I did not play..." Explanations that focus on feelings work better than those that focus on a partner’s behavior—"I lied because you are always trying to control how I spend my time."

Or for example, if caught having an affair, focusing on your feelings works better than blaming a partner for the situation "I felt neglected, lonely, not need..." rather than "the kids get all of your attention and time."

Explanations that focus on the feelings work best because they are easier for a partner to hear. Ultimately, giving explanations, at the right time, helps partners who have been wronged get what they need: their sense of control.