Have you truly given your wife a real apology? Have you ever received one from her? From anyone? If you aren’t sure, then the answer is “No”. The reason? Most people don’t know how to apologize. It is a skill that you can, and should, learn. Your marriage will be the better for it.
Look, nobody likes to admit he has done something wrong or hurtful. You believe you’re a good person with good intentions and your wife, coworker, or some other person are just too sensitive and need to lighten up and give you a break. This is how we get to the politician saying “mistakes were made” in some disjointed universe where actions don’t have consequences. Or the proverbial, “I’m sorry if someone was offended by my truly innocuous comment.” Statements like these add insult to injury.
In truth, the guilty feelings that come with acknowledging you’ve hurt someone you love, along with the shame you feel when you see yourself behave badly, aren’t easy to tolerate. The usual response to these painful feelings is get defensive and justify why what you did was really okay. The more you cling to your explanations, the deeper you dig the hole.
The key to an effective apology is to keep it clean. By this, I mean don’t add any reasons for what you did. Be specific about the hurtful behavior and own that it caused harm. Even if you didn’t mean to. Even if you wouldn’t be hurt if the same thing was said or done to you. Even if you don’t see how it could possibly have been taken that way. Even if you think she is making a mountain out of a molehill.
Do not use the words “if”, “but”, or “however”. These are eraser words that wipe out the apology. Yes, you probably did not intend to hurt or disappoint. But. You. Did. And that is what the apology is for. Not the specific action.
That is what trips you up. Your action, in the absolute value, may not have been ill-intended. It may not even be “wrong”, whatever that means. But your wife, the woman you love is hurt. It is that feeling you are apologizing for, not so much the vehicle for that hurt.
It can be thought of simply. My wife is hurting. I don’t want her to feel that way. It is the result of some action I took. I. Am. Sorry.
I do believe that having a discussion about what led to your actions is important. As is understanding what about them led to her difficult feelings. But this discussion comes in a different conversation from the one where you apologize. Combining them dilutes the apology. In fact, it usually wipes it out.
By letting the apology stand on its own, it allows your wife to feel seen and heard. It allows her to hear only your words of love and regret. It gives her time to process her feelings in the glow of your heartfelt and clean contrition. It’s an acknowledgment your regret that requires nothing in return.
I challenge you to try it for yourself. It shouldn’t be too difficult to identify something that has caused your wife hurt. Pay attention to the defensive that is coming up for you just thinking about it. Listen for the self-righteousness. Then let it go. Take full responsibility for the hurt you caused.
Then let me know what happened. You might be surprised, but I probably won’t.
If you’re ready to learn this and other relationship skills, let me know.
The Good Men Project gives people the insights, tools, and skills to survive, prosper and thrive in today’s changing world. A world that is changing faster than most people can keep up with that change. A world where jobs are changing, gender roles are changing, and stereotypes are being upended. A world that is growing more diverse and inclusive. A world where working towards equality will become a core competence. We’ve built a community of millions of people from around the globe who believe in this path forward. Thanks for joining The Good Men Project.
Support us on Patreon and we will support you and your writing! Tools to improve your writing and platform-building skills, a community to get you connected, and access to our editors and publisher. Your support will help us build a better, more inclusive world for all.
Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com