Why are apologies important?
We are human. We make mistakes. We say the wrong thing, we do the wrong thing. We are imperfect by design. We will inevitably mess up (some more frequently than others) and hurt those we care about. For this reason, it’s crucial that individuals in loving relationships know how to offer and accept apologies.
Is there a wrong way to apologize?
Absolutely. Apologies that shift blame to the other person, for example, aren’t really apologies at all. Politicians do this all the time. The say: “if you were offended by what I said, then I am sorry…” I interrupt clients, stop them in their tracks, when I hear an if-then apology in couples counseling. These types of pseudo-apologies actually make matters worse. They are confusing and put both individuals in a defensive posture.
What’s wrong with that? Someone said sorry, right? It’s that enough?
No. An apology is not a part of an argument as to whether or not an action is justified. It is not an invitation to more analysis and debate. An apology is a white flag, an invitation to the end of hostilities.
So what’s the right way to apologize?
It’s not complicated. Two people are involved. Turn off the TV. Take a break from Facebook-ing or Pinterest-ing or texting. An apology done right takes about two minutes. The apologizer talks, the listener listens. When the apologizer has stopped talking, they switch roles. Then it’s over. Hug it out.
Any key phrases?
Some of my clients have been married a long time. Maybe the come in to see me when they hit a rough patch after twenty years of marriage. Maybe they’re seeking help adjusting to life without the kids in the house. These people have learned how to apologize over the years. Here’s something I hear from them: “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” Notice the period at the end of the sentence. It’s important. I think this phrase has sustained many couples through the years.