Relationship Expert Tells Us Justin Timberlake's Ego Took Over After Britney Spears Split

Justin Timberlake's relationship history has its fair share of messes, one of the most notable being his split from Britney Spears. From the pointed "Cry Me A River" music video to the multitude of times he took cheap shots at her, Timberlake didn't hold back in smearing her name publicly. The List got the chance to speak with Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. — an expert in relationships and human behavior and author of the "Get Over Your Ex Now!" program and the "Are You Over Your Ex?" breakup test — to learn more about why Timberlake chose to behave the way he did post-breakup with Spears.

According to Wanis, breakup dynamics between famous power couples can often be amplified due to the celebrities' influence. Wanis says this is especially true if the celebrities choose to expose what they are thinking and feeling — and any conjecture about what they believe their ex may be thinking or feeling. Not to mention, "whatever the other person has committed!" Wanis said people usually regret these kinds of behaviors as they grow, especially when they've hurt someone else.

During their breakup, Timberlake made fun of Spears in many instances, including cruelly sharing private, intimate details about their relationship on the Star and Buc Morning Show (via Mirror). He also used "Cry Me A River" to expose Spears' infidelity by casting a blonde actress in the video. Wanis says that was a response to the anger and pain Timberlake likely felt after Spears admitted to cheating on him.

Justin Timberlake lashed out with 'Cry Me A River'

In her memoir, Britney Spears admitted she cheated on Justin Timberlake with Wade Robson (via Insider). However, she also wrote that Timberlake cheated on her and boasted about it. That didn't stop an upset Timberlake from making her look like the bad one.

"When Justin Timberlake released his 'Cry Me A River' music video," Patrick Wanis, Ph.D., said, "it seemed to me that it came from a place of both hurt and ego. ... When you're a musician and a celebrity, you have the opportunity to turn that pain into a song and a video; you have the means to sway the public to your favor or side."

Wanis went on to say that if Timberlake had chosen to keep his pain to himself, " ... it would not have had the same impact on the public, his fans, or on Britney Spears." After being cheated on, the song was Timberlake's way of reclaiming a semblance of " ... power and control once again." Wanis added that Timberlake wanted to make Spears feel as badly as he did.

"It takes extraordinary self-awareness and wisdom to be able to control one's emotions and responses when one is truly hurt or betrayed," the relationship expert continued. He also mentioned that Timberlake could have released the "Cry Me A River" video specifically to convince society that Spears was the villain in their story.

Justin Timberlake didn't show much concern for Britney Spears in his 'Oprah' interview

A stark contrast from previous vitriol, Justin Timberlake spoke kindly about Britney Spears in his 2007 Oprah Winfrey interview. He admitted to not knowing what was going on with her mental health and said, "There's no ill-will ... I have nothing but love for her." Patrick Wanis pointed out how Timberlake purposefully separates himself from Spears and noted, "As someone who works with celebrities, I find it very hard to believe that he would know nothing and that no one would have mentioned to him what was going on with Britney."

The expert also said how telling it is that Timberlake refrained from asking Winfrey to elaborate on what's going on with Spears. "He did offer support for her by saying that he thinks she has a great heart and that she's a great person," Wanis said, "but he did not express any real concern for her beyond that."

Timberlake could have responded to the situation better by making it clear that he'd contact Spears and support her during this difficult time, or by admitting that he's the last person she'd want to hear from now. Wanis gave the "Mirrors" singer the benefit of the doubt and remarked that he was only 26 at the time of the interview. "Because of his immaturity and lack of personal growth at the time," Wanis said, "he may have sincerely believed that it was best for both of them to stay apart."

A 2021 documentary turned the tables on Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake

Britney Spears' fans were furious with Justin Timberlake in 2021 because of the "Framing Britney Spears" documentary, which shone a light on Timberlake's treatment of Spears (and Janet Jackson). The "Rock Your Body" singer then took to Instagram to apologize. He expressed remorse for past actions (and inaction) and criticized the entertainment industry for putting white men on pedestals. Timberlake also promised to "do better" in the future.

"It's often very difficult to look inside someone's heart to know exactly what they're thinking and feeling and if they're coming from a place of truth," Patrick Wanis said in response to Timberlake's apology. He said Timberlake became the bad guy after years of being the good guy in the Timberlake-Spears breakup. "At that point," Wanis continued, "there's very little you can say to sway the people who've already taken a side and who therefore come from a place of emotional bias."

While Wanis felt Timberlake was honest in the apology, it seemed ghostwritten. Like the Oprah Winfrey interview, Timberlake didn't show much emotion, " ... and there was nothing coming from a place of true humility, deep regret, or compassion. The public wants to hear that he is now in pain for the mistakes that he made, for the bad things he, too, did to Britney!"

Dr. Patrick Wanis remarked that parasocial relationships are at play

Dr. Patrick Wanis said how Justin Timberlake's 2021 apology caused Britney Spears fans to still be mad at him. The internet saw red at Timberlake's response to her 2021 conservatorship hearing, as well. However, it's important to note that when Timberlake and Spears were together, they were barely adults. "They never consciously thought about the consequences of their actions," Wanis said, "not only upon each other but also upon themselves." 

Bombshells from Spears' 2023 memoir, "The Woman in Me," have reignited anger at Timberlake again. "Justin owns who he was when he and Britney were together," an insider told the U.S. Sun, "even though his personality, career, lifestyle, and personal priorities are radically different now, 20 years later." Even if he has changed, the criticism persists. One fan expressed their outrage by tweeting, "me in Justin Timberlake's house if the 'A Quiet Place' monsters were real," and attached a video of Spears loudly singing (to draw the fictional monsters in).

Wanis expressed that parasocial relationships are why people feel strongly about celebrity's lives and judge them harshly. "Compassion for one's pain doesn't necessarily involve, include, or need to include hating, attacking, or criticizing someone else," Wanis said regarding those kinds of relationships. "Real compassion is about feeling Britney's pain and then thinking about what you can do to alleviate her pain, and perhaps realize that simply attacking Justin Timberlake won't actually alleviate any of Britney's real and deep pain."