Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Crafting a careful apology

E and I really struggle with conflict in our marriage. Well, actually we're great at conflict, but not as great at getting ourselves out of it and moving forward. Apologies are a touchy subject between us--often times I feel like I really need one but don't know how to ask for it without nagging, and we're both stubborn as heck about saying we were wrong.

A good apology is more than just admitting wrongdoing or saying "I'm sorry," though. Apologizing in a thorough and healthy way can lead to trust-building in your relationship and make everyone feel even more secure. Apologies done poorly can feel (to borrow a metaphor used on Facebook today by my friend Tom) like shaving your legs with a cheese grater. Painful.

Another of the memorable lessons that we learned at Retrouvaille was that feelings are not right or wrong. They are spontaneous and uncontrollable. It is what you do with them that matters. Often times we get into a situation where we think that the other person needs to stop feeling the way s/he does. That's a no-win situation. Dismissing a person's feelings (e.g. You shouldn't feel that way, or That's stupid to feel that way) is ultimately dismissing that person at their core--their most vulnerable. Being able to hear and accept what another person feels shows them their inherent value to you. As you can imagine, this is another area of struggle. I wish we were better at assessing the situation to see where the feeling of our spouse came from, and then trying to address the cause without defensiveness. We've dabbled in quality apologies, but it's still an area where we need some work.

I'm posting this article here because tonight we had a big blowout over a Facebook status and I lost it. He lost it. We got ugly. We're so good at that. But I have this post bookmarked and I read it to remind myself of exactly how to craft an apology. Maybe it's the English Teacher in me, but I feel like structures for carefully structuring writing and/or speaking are very helpful. Something as fragile as another person's feelings deserves some tenderness until you're comfortable enough with it that you don't need help. I still need help.

Here's the article, reposted in its entirety from a blog called Simple Marriage. Original post on 2/9/09. Please visit Simple Marriage. It's a very helpful blog that relates to a lot of the issues we've had in our marriage. I am sure we're not the only ones.

How To Say I’m Sorry: The 5 Steps To A Genuine Apology

sorry How To Say <span class=
Photo courtesy *Zara

Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.

The words “I’m sorry, I apologize, and Forgive me” are so easily said that they’ve lost their meaning. Ever get an apology that left you wondering whether or not the person apologizing had a clue about what hurt your feelings? Or maybe you were shaking your head, thinking, “I see your lips moving, but I don’t believe what you’re saying.”

And if you were the one giving the apology, did you ever walk away thinking, “I don’t know why I bother to say I’m sorry - you don’t believe me anyway!”

Both people might think, Well, I’m glad we went through the motions, but I don’t think that that “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me” changes anything.

So what’s the difference between the same old same old, “I’m sorry, I apologize, or Forgive Me” and a genuine apology? In the real deal, both the offended and the offender walk away feeling

  • heard and validated,
  • accountable and responsible,
  • competent and confident.

In a genuine apology, the words take on new meaning as they are lived, more than spoken.

Here’s the 5 steps to the real deal, a genuine apology.

  1. Describe the event (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE)
  2. Yesterday when we were in the car (where), you (who) were telling me how you handled a situation at work (what) . . .

  3. Tell what you did and describe the action
  4. . . . and I said, in a sarcastic manner (how I acted) that I thought the way you handled the situation was stupid (what I did). I want you to know that I was rude to use such a harsh word as stupid. It was judgmental of me to think that I knew better how to handle that situation at your work. I think that speaking to you in a sarcastic manner was disrespectful and contemptuous and not the way I want to treat you.

  5. Acknowledge the damage done
  6. I know that it hurt you for me to label your actions as stupid and to speak to you in a sarcastic manner. I know that my thoughtless words reflected a lack of confidence in your abilities and my sarcastic tone was unkind and necessary.

  7. Tell what you wish you had done instead
  8. I wish that I had been more thoughtful and kind and chosen my words more carefully. I wish I had talked about the many school situations you have handled successfully.

  9. Tell what you PLAN to do differently the next time.
  10. The next time you are telling me about something that happens at work, I plan to listen better, ask more questions, and choose my words carefully. I plan to focus on my knowledge of your strengths. And I commit to you my intent to speak to you in a manner that reflects how much I care for you and about our relationship.

When you’re the offender, you hold yourself accountable for your actions by responsibly describing the event and your offensive actions, and you validate that you understand the hurt those actions caused. You then demonstrate your competence by letting your partner know that you thought about what would have worked better in that situation. And you build confidence that you mean it when you lay out a plan do what you wish you had done the next time the same thing happens.

Your partner gets to hear an objective description of the event and the offense - (WWWWH - Who, What, When, Where, and How)- validation of the hurt felt, along with your thinking about what might have worked. You inspire confidence in a different future outcome in both your partner and, just as important, in yourself by creating a plan of action.

You need to be responsible for you and your partner need to be responsible for him.

  • You do not need to plead for your partner to restore your sense of self by either asking (begging) for forgiveness or to accept your apology. You are forgiving yourself by holding yourself accountable to your partner while taking full responsibility for your actions, and committing to act differently.
  • Your partner does not sacrifice himself by accepting an apology that is incomplete, insincere, or without a commitment to future change (true repentance). Your partner can accept the apology, or not, or he can state what is still missing. They have the option to wait and see. They don’t have to fold because you apologized and you don’t have to wilt in exile until they accept.

The real deal respects and enhances the integrity of you and your partner. A genuine apology is heavy lifting in going deep into taking your shape - and becoming the best partner you can be, regardless of what your partner does or does not do.

1 comment:

  1. I can see you're struggling with this issue. Be real with your feelings and speak from your heart.