Youjustifications: Why are we fighting? Let me not count the ways

Youjustifications: I’m right because you just…

Again, he’s ready to leave for an event and she’s not. He asks her how long she’ll be, honestly, because once he knows, he can adjust, do something to pass the time, manage his impatience with distractions. It’s just the uncertainty that irritates him.

To appease his impatience she says “fifteen minutes,” but twenty-five minutes later she’s still not ready.

What’s going on here? Not one but two issues, at least. One issue is different paces. She takes more time than he does. She feels rushed; he feels impatient. The other issue is precision—she wants more flexibility; he wants her to predict her ETD more accurately.

“You said fifteen minutes,” he says in his hard voice, which instantly becomes a third issue. To her, his hard voice is intimidating, unfair, and a turn-off. To him it’s a direct expression of how he feels and is necessary for waking her up to the cost.

Without turning away from her mirror (thereby signaling “I’m moving as fast as I can”), she looks wounded and disappointed. Her response becomes a fourth issue. She feels she’s just responding naturally; he feels bullied by these unassailably yin tactics.

“Please, darling, don’t be impatient with me,” she says, zeroing in on his impatience, his most indefensible behavior.

“I’m not impatient,” he says in his impatient voice. “The problem is your inability or unwillingness to think about my needs. I asked a simple question and you won’t give me a straight answer.” He zeros in on the ETD bait-and-switch, her most indefensible behavior.

Meeting him on his issue but her terms, she says, “You think people should be expected to predict the future accurately.” Now there’s a fifth issue. She thinks people can’t predict accurately. He thinks they can.

“Fine,” she says when they can’t settle that question. “I realize now that it’s irresponsible of me to attempt to meet your standard, so next time I won’t attempt a prediction.” Sixth issue. Does her pledge resolve things or not? She says yes. He says no.

In the deadlock, with both focusing on polar opposite causes of the strife, a seventh issue arises. Who started it? And an eighth. Who’s perpetuating it? The issues keep piling up. And under the weight of them all, he and she both zero in, trying to claim there’s just one issue.

Youjustifications justify behavior by implying that the opponent has just one motive and it’s a bad one. Indeed, the worst one plausible. As issues arise, you concentrate on the one where you have an advantage and ignore the ones where you have a disadvantage. Above all, you ignore the way the issues accumulate. Youjustification means you always act as though there’s only one thing going on.

“You just are too impatient.”
“You just don’t care about leaving me hanging indefinitely.”
“You just were feeling angry and needed a reason to vent.”
“You just perpetuate our fights.”
“You just bully with your hard voice.
“You just bully with your feminine meekness.”

Justifying one’s actions with “you just” in situations that rarely if ever are so simple tends to add further layers of conflict without resolving any that have already arisen. In general, beware of the constraining effects of the word “just.” “Just” means “Ignore all other factors.”

“I was just asking how long you would be.”
“I just need to get everything done.
“I’m just expressing my feelings.”
“I’m just persisting until we both get resolution.”
“I’m just speaking my mind.”
“I’m just letting you know how hurt I am.”

A couples counselor once said, “If you’re taking longer than a minute to ‘just share your feelings,’ you’re not just sharing your feelings. You’re trying to influence someone to change.” The insight is a good one—but it doesn’t go far enough. Youjustifications attempt that sort of influence in a few pointed words; they don't need nearly a minute to do their work.

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