We find it can become a point of contention if one partner doesn’t ever apologise when the other does. Here are some strategies for defusing this:
Do you find it hard to say sorry, or to have your apologies accepted? These tips should help.
Whether we’ve made an unintentional gaffe or wounded a loved one with words spoken in anger, we all have moments when we need to apologise. But it can be remarkably hard to express regret and ask for forgiveness.
“It’s more complicated than just saying the words, ‘I’m sorry’,” says psychotherapist and couples counsellor Madeleine Bocker. “A good apology can make such a difference.”
So what is a “good apology”, and how does one go about formulating one? Here are the essential dos and don’ts:
DO apologise as quickly as possible
Saying sorry may not be easy, but putting it off will only make it harder – and will allow resentment to build in the person you’re apologising to. That said, it’s also important that you give it enough time so you can be genuine.
“If you’re still angry or it’s political, like when a child has been told he has to apologise, that’s not going to be well received,” says Bocker. “As soon as you’ve calmed down and you can make eye contact, that’s when it’s time to apologise. The sooner you can do that, the better.”
DO exercise empathy
Part of the time between the argument and the apology should be spent in reflection, particularly about how the other party might be feeling.
“Realise what’s gone wrong so that you know what you’re apologising for,” says Relate counsellor Peter Saddington. “The apology needs to reflect the depth of the wound.”
It’s also important to consider that different people need different types of apology. “Some people want to be apologised to with a grand gesture,” Saddington explains. “Others want you to just say it and then forget it and move on. The way that you instinctively want to apologise may not work.”
DO express your culpability
Possibly the single most important element of an apology is acknowledging what you did wrong. “Hold up your hands and say, ‘I messed up’ or ‘I really shouldn’t have done that’,” says Bocker. “Say what it is that you did wrong: ‘I know that I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I understand that you’re upset with me – you have every right to be.’”
This last admission is a tough but vital one, Bocker adds. “It’s important to make space for the other person to respond, to be angry and hurt.”
DO be genuine
If an apology isn’t heartfelt, it’s unlikely to be accepted. If you’re saying sorry simply to try to end a conflict, your words, body language and expression will give you away.
“Apologise for what you genuinely feel was wrong on your part; don’t apologise for something [you don’t believe was your fault] because that will come across,” says Saddington. “If you do it because you ‘ought to’, it often comes out wrong.”
That might mean you only apologise for an element of what took place. “Sometimes it wasn’t what you said, it was the way you said it,” he adds. “In which case you can say: ‘I’m sorry it came out in that way – I didn’t intend to sound snappy.’ You don’t have to apologise for what you said if you meant it.”
DON’T make excuses
Although offering an explanation may be appropriate at some stage – indeed, the other party may demand it – laying blame anywhere other than at your own feet can totally negate an otherwise perfect apology.
“It’s important not to make excuses like, ‘I’m so tired’, says Bocker. “And don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, but …’, for example, ‘I’m sorry, but you’re too sensitive’ or, ‘I’m sorry, but you know that makes me angry’. That’s not an apology.”
DON’T make false promises
No one can guarantee future perfection, so avoid including grand gestures that are ultimately worthless. “If I’m apologising for being late to work, it might not be realistic to say ‘I’ll never be late again’,” says Bocker. “But I might say, ‘I’ll leave half an hour earlier in the future’.”
Expressing a genuine intention to change is great, but your words need to be followed up by action. “I might say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ but if I keep saying that and not changing then after a while the apology has no value,” says Saddington. “The person receiving it thinks, ‘I’ve heard it all before’.”
DO recognise their needs
Apologising may be difficult for you, but that’s not the focus right now. “It’s about them – it’s not about me,” says Bocker. “Yes, I hold up my hands, but then for me to ask you to feel sorry for me is not ideal.”
Instead, find out what will help them through the hurt you have intentionally or unintentionally caused them. “It’s good to ask, ‘What do you need from me?’” says Bocker. “It might be ‘I need more time’ or ‘I’m not sure you understand exactly what I’m upset about’.”
DON’T get upset if your apology isn’t accepted
Sometimes it might take more than one attempt to make amends. “When an apology hasn’t worked, the other person might be wounded in a way you don’t understand,” says Saddington.
“You can say, ‘I’ve said sorry; what is it I need to understand so that I can know how to respond?’ The person who is apologising has a responsibility to find out, and the person who has been injured has a responsibility to say what they’re angry with.”
Ultimately though, there’s nothing you can do to force the injured party to respond in the way you’d like. All you can do is apologise as quickly, genuinely and unreservedly as you know how – and then leave the ball in their court.
“You have to recognise when there’s nothing more you can do,” Saddington concludes.
This article came from Rin Hamburgh for the Guardian
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