How to Apologize

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How to Apologize

I was married once to a misogynistic male. When he cheated with his former girlfriend his behavior flagged his remorse but he never actually apologized. We never ever spoke of it again. We never discussed why he did it. We never discussed how I felt or how he felt. We just stopped talking to each other about anything other than logistics like the tasks involved with moving to another state. We remained just like that and worse for the next 14 years.

When one partner reports to the other that a wrong or even a discomfort has occurred an apology needs to be given. I’ve been known to apologize once or twice through the years even though I did not feel that I had wronged anyone. Once an apology has been given then a dialogue can begin. The situation isn’t over because an apology has been given. We should stop teaching children that they need only apologize and all is mended.

Instead, an apology is a good start toward real sharing and development. Mature adults want that. They are eager to do the hard work that a quality relationship requires, especially when things are off track. An apology says “I’m present and I’m in this with you.” Additionally, I hope it says, “I genuinely regret what I did.”

You may think that under uncomfortable or egregious circumstances the goal to shoot for is to bring an end to the situation. In any event, you and the partner or friend want to no longer feel ugly feelings. Well, sure. That’s understandable. However, if that’s all that you want then that’s all that you get at best. You will not have

1. learned more about yourself,
2. you will not have invested further in the relationship,
3. you won’t know what needs were not getting met, and
4. you will not have discerned together what needs to change.

What do apologies look like/sound like?:

I am very sorry.
I deeply regret what I did.
I wish I hadn’t done it but I did and I am so sorry.
I’m sorry to have hurt your feelings.
I am responsible for this. If you let me I’d like to work with you to correct where we are now.
I’m sorry to have…
I can see now that I’ve made a tremendous problem for us. I’m sorry. I’d like to talk about how to make things better.

The Reporting Person wants

– acknowledgment of the problem,
– to know that you are taking responsibility for what’s happened,
– that you care about her/him. Does this matter to you? How much? Are you simply trying to sweep the issue under the oriental rug?
– to know that you’ve thought more than superficially about what went wrong,
– to know that you have proposals for change that you want her/him to hear,
– to know that you are committed to dialogue and possibly change,
– to know that if you commit to doing something you’ll see it through.

If you are the Reporting Person then check in with yourself:

– I feel bad. Really? I feel angry/abandon/the trade/anxious/sad/visible. Where in the body do you feel the hurt? Focus there. Shift your attention to your breathing. Make each breath deeper and longer. You’ll feel better.
-Please consider the possibility that you do not feel hurt. That would be okay, too. Maybe you feel shocked. Maybe you are surprised and disappointed.

– How can you state how you are feeling simply, ask for your needs clearly, and not be either revengeful or harmful?

Now that you know how you are feeling what do you want to do about feelings versus what do you want in this situation? Think about what you want. What does the other person what? Can you imagine improvement? Are there steps that you, too, can take to create a different and much improved situation? Do you need to call in a therapist or someone else to help? What’s the real issue? Have you talked through what happened? Have you told your partner how you think and feel?

If you are the Responding Person – – the Apologizer – – then expect to be apologizing. Don’t wait. Apologize. “I’m sorry.” Get the dialogue rolling. Engage. Engage. Engage. Don’t let your heart close up because of how you are feeling. Now, when things are unpleasant, that’s when you should speak up. Impress your partner with your ability to stay present: “I am here for you.” Actually be present. Shift into learning about the other person’s needs until those needs are no longer a concern.

If you are the Responding Person check in with yourself:

– have you apologized?
– How are you feeling? Have you shared how you feel with your partner? Are you feeling regretful? Maybe not. Own that if it’s true.
– Have you tried to talk through what happened? Have you tried again?
– What’s your goal here?
– What would you like to see happen next? Have you shared these thoughts?
– Do you or both of you need outside support?

Both of you should leave the issue out front and central until it just isn’t important anymore. Talk in small bites, not in long drudgery sessions. Let your goal be using the situation in order to get to a better place. Do it together.

Use a trying situation to bring you closer.


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