For many of the people that seek counseling with me for ruptures in relationships, being able to apologize to a partner or ex-spouse is one of their biggest challenges. While there aren’t any simple solutions to a good apology, there are many ways that you can ruin one that can be avoided.
How to Ruin an Apology
For some, giving an apology is an admission of guilt. They may not believe they are fully responsible for the regrettable behavior or comments that were made so refuse to apologize. For others, they simply are at a loss for words and get stuck in the weeds indefinitely.
You may stubbornly hold onto the belief that you have nothing to apologize for – especially if your hurtful behavior or words were not intentional. Meanwhile, your partner or ex-spouse may be suffering and you are preventing healing and reconciliation from taking place.
When Jackie, 48, and Kevin, 47, were co-parenting two young children, they would argue about her tendency to be more lenient than Kevin toward Jenna, 12, and Patrick, age 8. Their fights would get intense and harsh words would be exchanged. For a few years, they didn’t understand the importance of repairing hurt feelings and so apologies weren’t part of their dialogue.
Kevin put it this way, our different parenting styles were obvious when we were married, but they became more of a problem when we started co-parenting after our divorce. I know I’m not perfect and I have a short fuse. And I need to stop commenting on ways I think Jackie lets our kids off the hook for chores and homework in front of them. When I do this, she retaliates with angry words and it’s not good for Jenna and Patrick to hear us fighting.”
One day, when Kevin was dropping off Jenna and Patrick on his way to work, Kevin criticized Jackie for letting their kids stay up too late the week before. Then, Jackie accused him of being a mean ogre and yelled obscenities.
When Jackie waited to apologize two days later, she said, “I’m sorry you overreacted to my comments” which came across as insincere and made Kevin feel angrier. As a result, he carried around resentment for several weeks, clammed up, and refused to discuss their children’s schedule with Jackie.
In this situation, Jackie’s apology didn’t have the effect she was looking for and perhaps made matters worse. If you do apologize to your partner or ex-spouse, be sure to do it in the right way that doesn’t include excuses for your actions or words.
Not all apologies will be the same but most will contain some important elements. It’s not about proving you’re right and the other person is in the wrong. Remember, you simply need to come to a more compassionate and realistic view of your relationship if you want it to flourish.
When you acknowledge your flaws – the things that make you human – you can be vulnerable with your partner rather than allowing your fear of rejection or failure to overwhelm you. Generally, there are a few ways you can ruin an apology:
Four Ways to Ruin an Apology
- Tagging a “but” onto an apology. When people add a disclaimer on to the end of the apology such as “I’m sorry I yelled at you when you were late, but I had a headache” definitely dilutes your apology and comes across as an excuse.
- Saying “I’m sorry you feel this way.” This phrase weakens your apology and comes across as insincere. A genuine apology keeps the focus on your actions rather than the other person’s response. It holds you accountable and is more easily accepted by the person who feels hurt.
- The unwanted apology. When the other person has shut down and let you know through their actions or words that they are not interested in hearing another word from you, back off and give it another try when they appear receptive. In other words, don’t try to force an apology on someone and give them time to recover.
- The overstated or manipulative apology. Saying something like, “Can you ever forgive me for being bad?” or, “Will you forgive me for being a flawed person?”
By asking for forgiveness, you show that you’re aware when your actions or words have been hurtful and you’re able to be vulnerable enough to give a genuine apology. And by accepting an apology, you’re being receptive to the opportunity that healing may be possible. By showing compassion toward your partner or ex-spouse, when you feel they’ve wronged you, you let go of your anger, bitterness, and resentment. This allows you to get out of the role of victim and embrace healthier communication. My next blog will address how to make a sincere apology that can help mend a rupture in a relationship.
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