So often couples come in frustrated and hopeless about resolving their arguments.
One partner has apologized for whatever wrongdoing potentially occurred and feels exasperated their apology has gotten them nowhere. He or she declares,
“I’ve already apologized a million times! What more can I do?!”
The other partner does not believe the apology was genuine and therefore continues to attack. “ She isn’t really sorry, she’s just saying she is!”
So what does it really mean to give and receive an apology? Here are a few ideas for couples to keep in mind when an apology is in order.
Don’t Apologize Just To End The Fight
Most of us don’t like conflict. Fighting with our partner is uncomfortable at best, frightening and painful at worst. We want the fight to end. Now. Especially if we are the ones at fault and having to listen to our partner tell us what we did to hurt them. We may find ourselves spitting out an apology just to end the arguing.
The problem is our partner usually picks up on our motivation and knows the apology isn’t completely sincere…thus perpetuating more fighting. Take a deep breath and walk away. Give yourself space and time to reflect. Express that you’re sorry when the two of you are less escalated and can listen to each other.
I’m Sorry But…
“I’m sorry but…” is not an apology! I hear this all the time with couples. “I’m sorry but you were the one who started it.” “I’m sorry but it’s your fault this happened.” A true apology does not include a caveat, exception, or qualifier. I’m sorry means you are accepting responsibility for your actions, full stop.
If you believe your partner deserves an apology, then some part of you probably understands how your partner is feeling. Perhaps you recognize you’ve hurt them. Give yourself time to slow down. Feel for yourself what you think your partner might be feeling. Just let yourself imagine it. Once you feel connected to empathy, offer an apology.
Sorry Doesn’t Mean You’re a Monster
If we feel our partner deserves an apology then we know we’ve done something wrong. This can bring up guilt and shame, some of the most challenging feelings to sit with. Guilt and shame are, in part, why so many of us resist apologizing. Hold yourself with compassion and gentleness when you reflect on what you would like to apologize for. We all make mistakes and a mistake does not mean we’re a bad person.
Often when we feel we are “in the right” it’s easy to let it rip. We can spout off an endless list of wrongdoings and pile on the guilt. It’s tempting, but it won’t get you the apology you crave. Try to express feelings rather than judgments, attacks, and criticisms.
Usually when an apology is in order we don’t want the situation to reoccur. Reflect on what it is you would like your partner to understand about your experience. What was specifically upsetting to you? Why did this make you so hurt? Your experience may be layered than you initially thought. Be specific about the actions that hurt you and why.
Receive The Apology
Sometimes this can take time depending on the offense. However, if we truly want the conflict resolved we have to remain open to our partner and open to accepting their apology. Give your partner a chance to express him or herself. Take them in. If the apology feels genuine, accept it, and talk to your partner about what the two of you need to do move on.