Tag Archive for apology

Before You Apologize, Consider This

Apologizing is humbling, even difficult. It becomes even more difficult if you’ve ever experienced a time in which apologizing backfired and just made things worse. Or, if you have childhood memories of being forced to apologize for something you didn’t even do. Maybe that’s part of the issue. No one ever taught us how to apologize. In marriage, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing. It will go much more smoothly if you take a moment to learn how to apologize well. With that in mind, the first step in making an effective apology is to answer two question.

The first question: What motives underlie my desire to apologize? Why am I apologizing? Many times, we have poor motives for apologizing.

Husband coming home late to an angry wife who is holding a rolling pin
  • For instance, apologizing just to get back in good graces or to put the event behind us are bad motives for an apology. Your spouse will see through the apology to the motive and become even more upset.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we fear our spouse will dislike us or remain angry at us. We don’t like other people (especially our spouse) having negative emotions toward us. So, we apologize in an  attempt to free ourselves from being disliked, to free ourselves from the burden of another person’s negative emotions. It won’t work. It will only increase those negative emotions. You need a different motive.
  • Sometimes we apologize because we want our spouse to “forget it about it” and “get on with our happy marriage.” We apologize to get our spouse to “move on.” You’ve heard it, “Why are you still upset about this. I apologized.” Once again, won’t work.
  • Sometimes we are tempted to disguise our defense or justification for our action in an apology. These apologies start with an “I’m sorry” followed by a “but” that transforms the apology into a defense, justification, or blame. “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have….” “I’m sorry, but I was tired.” “I’m sorry, but you have to understand….” These apologies really aren’t apologies at all. Notice that each of the four motives mentioned so far focus on “me” and “my” relief. They will not work.
  • A motive for true apology is the recognition that I did something hurtful to my spouse. I did or said something wrong. I was thoughtless, rude, uncaring, hurtful. I love my spouse and I do not want to hurt them. As a result, I want to apologize for hurting them. I want to take ownership for my hurtful actions or words and apologize. I want to tell my spouse how I plan to avoid those hurtful words and deeds in the future. I apologize to sincerely express my sorrow for hurting the one I love and to explain my plan to avoid doing it again.

The second question: to whom am I going to apologize? Think about your spouse and their personality.

  • Some personalities welcome an apology. They are glad to hear the apology but become upset recalling the hurt for which you are apologizing. If you have experienced this in your marriage, know that your spouse needs a comprehensive apology. They also need you to stick with them so the two of you can process the original hurt. This will allow them to hear your true remorse and your plan to avoid hurting them in a similar way in the future. Don’t get caught up in their emotions. Stay calm. Stick with your apology. Listen, empathize, and restate your plan to change.  
  • Some personalities get uncomfortable with the vulnerability and emotion aroused by an apology. They often accept your apology with a quick “It’s alright” or “Don’t worry about it.”  Unfortunately, they may still hold some resentment even as they avoid talking about it. So, take a moment to let them know you are willing to talk more about it and answer any of their questions and fears any time they like. Then be willing to do so.

What are your motives for apologizing? What is the personality of the person to whom you are apologizing? Answering these two questions before you begin will make your apology more sincere and effective.

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

A Few Random Thoughts About Marital Conflict

There’s a New Yorker Cartoon in which a couple is arguing. One says to the other, “I can’t remember what we’re arguing about, either. Let’s keep yelling, and maybe it will come back to us.”  I chuckled when I saw that cartoon. It’s true. Many couples do not remember what they are fighting about. They remember the emotion, the hurtful words, the dirty looks…but they don’t recall the reason for the argument. They might continue yelling, but they still don’t remember what started the argument. So why blow up over a topic that you may not even remember tomorrow? Avoid the hurtful words, the dirty looks, the angry comebacks…your spouse will remember them and the damage they have on your relationship is huge. Instead, listen, understand, and bless. That will give you something better to remember and will even change quite a few arguments!

Sincere apologies work miracles. It’s true. But, a sincere apology is more than mere words. A sincere apology reveals genuine remorse for what was done and how it impacted the other person. A sincere apology accepts responsibility for the actions that caused the hurt and a sincere apology reassures the other of your love for them. A sincere apology involves the “fruit of repentance” as well, actions that replace the hurtful action and assure it does not happen again. A sincere apology requires humility, responsibility, and change. It’s well worth it though. A sincere apology not only restores relationship, it strengthens relationship. Sincere apologies work miracles. (Read The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology for more.)

Time out is not just for the kids. Sometimes, couples need a “time out” to cool down. They need to stop the argument for a short time (20 minutes at least), “go to their respective corners,” and calm down. Calming down will require each one to put their mind on a topic other than the one they were fighting about. You can go for a walk, play a game, read a good story, watch a comedy, skim through magazines…whatever it takes to help you put the topic of the argument out of your mind long enough to “calm down.”  After emotions have cooled, come back together over a cup of hot cocoa and cookies (or some equivalent) to talk about the problem that caused the argument. You’ll likely find it isn’t really the big deal it had become prior to your “time out.” In a calm state, you will more easily resolve the differences or simply “agree to disagree.” It all begins with a “time out” to calm down.

One last thought. If you want to resolve an argument more quickly and calmly stop trying to figure out how your spouse has it all wrong. Instead, figure out what your spouse has right. Every perspective has some validity. Find your spouse’s valid point of view. Listen to the emotion and the priority behind your spouse’s perspective. What emotions, priorities, or concerns are driving their passion. Acknowledge their emotion. Accept their priority. Recognize areas in which you can agree with them. Then, build your solution from there. (Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day provides more tips for resolving arguments in a healthy way.)

 

*Cartoon downloaded from <https://www.art.com/products/p15063422260-sa-i6846321/david-sipress-i-can-t-remember-what-we-re-arguing-about-either-let-s-keep-yelling-an-new-yorker-cartoon.htm?RFID=765957>

Humility & Your Marriage…Now That’s HOT!!!

“Oh lord it’s hard to be humble when your perfect in every way…” or so said Mac Davis in 1980.  Maybe it’s even harder today. We live in a world that encourages self-promotion. Teens base their self-worth on the number of “likes” they receive for their most recent selfie…and so work to look “perfect in every way” before posting the “spontaneous” selfie.  But, when it comes to creating long-term marital bliss humility is hot! A study published in 2015 explored the role of humility in relationships (Humility and Relationship Outcomes in Couples). They compared how a person perceived their partner’s humility to their relationship satisfaction and forgiveness. They also explored whether commitment played a role. They discovered that as one’s perception of their partner’s humility increased so did forgiveness and satisfaction in the relationship. In other words, a partner’s humility contributes to their partners sense of relational commitment, satisfaction, and willingness to forgive.

This begs the question…what exactly is humility and how do we increase it in our relationship? First, humility involves having an accurate view of ourselves. It means we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses. Second, humility involves having an “other-oriented” perspective rather than a selfish perspective. A humble person does not boast or act prideful. They also show a willingness to sacrifice self-gratification to meet their partner’s needs. They make self-promotion secondary to partner-promotion.

The question remains: how do we develop humility in our marriages? Based on the definition above, here are several ideas to get you started.

  1. Acknowledge your own strengths AND weaknesses. We all have them…so admit it. If you don’t know what they are, ask your spouse and maybe a few other people who love you and know you well. Put on a tough skin and listen carefully. Don’t think so highly of your strengths that you ignore your weaknesses; don’t obsess over your weaknesses so much you neglect your strengths. Acknowledge both.
  2. Put your spouse first. In communication your first goal is to understand your spouse because what they have to say is important. In living a healthy life your first goal is to assure your spouse has what they need to live healthy (opportunities for healthy food, rest, exercise). In entertainment your first goal is for your spouse, not yourself. In all areas, put your spouse and their needs first. You can still take care of yourself. After all, your spouse needs a healthy partner. So by all means, take care of yourself because your spouse is of utmost importance and they need a healthy partner.
  3. Accept your spouse’s influence in your life. Let their needs and vulnerabilities, fears and joys influence your decisions, your words, and your actions. Allow their requests to influence your behavior and daily chores. Allowing your spouse to influence your words and deeds is an amazing expression of humble love.
  4. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness when necessary. We all make mistakes. A humble person acknowledges their mistakes and seeks forgiveness. They apologize for their wrong doings, even when those wrong doings are unintentional.
  5. Offer forgiveness. A humble person is gracious in offering forgiveness. They do not demand undue retribution. They recognize that all of us (including me) have “fallen short” and made mistakes. As a result, they do not hold a grudge. They accept the other person’s apology and seek to restore the relationship.

One last thing to remember. Beauty fades over time. Skin sags, body shapes change. But, humility grow and flourishes over time. Outward beauty is hot for the moment, but humility…now that’s hot for a lifetime!

This Pattern Will Kill Your Marriage

Every marriage relationship develops patterns of interaction. Some patterns help marriages grow. Some can kill marriage. An analysis of 74 separate studies that included over 14,000 people discovered one pattern that can kill our marriages! This negative relationship pattern lowers relationship satisfaction, decreases intimacy, and contributes to poorer communication. It is often lovingly referred to as the demand-withdraw pattern. In this pattern one partner makes criticisms, complaints, and requests while the other withdraws and gives the silent treatment (The Most Toxic Relationship Pattern). Knowing this pattern can destroy your marriage is a start. Learning what you can do to replace it is even better. That’s the real solution. Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Instead of criticizing, use what Gottman calls a “gentle startup.” Rather than verbally attacking your partner’s personality, stick to describing the situation causing the stress. Find a way to explain the positive need inherent in your complaint rather than “harping” on what your partner’s doing wrong. Coming up with a positive need opens the door to discovering a solution and building intimacy.
  2. Rather than creating an environment of abuse in which you insult your partner or show contempt for your partner, create an environment of appreciation. Maintain your awareness of your partner’s positive qualities. Speak words of affirmation and adoration to your partner every day.
  3. Rather than making excessive demands and requests on your partner, practice serving one another. Build a culture of service, a culture in which both partners serve one another.
  4. It’s easy to begin taking a “tit-for-tat” position when you feel like your partner blames you for something. Our first instinct is often to return blame for blame, attack for attack. Rather than do so, take responsibility for your own mistakes. Own up to your shortcomings. Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for your mistakes.
  5. Rather than shutting down, practice calming yourself and your partner. Don’t push buttons. Breath. Take a break. Distract yourself. Then, after you have soothed yourself, return to #2 and tell your partner what you love about them.

The demand-withdraw pattern could destroy your marriage. But you can end it. You can replace it with something better by beginning to practice the 5 actions above. Why not start today!

The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology

Let’s face it; we all make mistakes. We all do things in and to our families for which we need to apologize. It could be something as simple as forgetting to pick up the milk or as complex forgivenoteas feeling unloved. Whatever it is, an apology is in order. But, not just any apology will do. Research out of Ohio State explored what makes an apology effective. The study’s lead author, Roy Lewicki, completed two studies involving a total of 755 people and found an effective apology consists of six components. In each of the two studies, participants read a scenario that included an apology for a wrong committed. In both studies, the apologies containing more of the six components were considered more effective. At the same time, not all components were equal. Participants considered certain components more important than others.  So, for the top six components of an effective apology:

  • Number six and the least important component is…a request for forgiveness. Not surprising. After all, asking the other person to forgive me means I’m still thinking about myself. So, if one component is left out, this might be the one.
  • Numbers five, four, and three tied for third place in importance. So, the components of forgiveness landing in third place of importance are…expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, and a declaration of repentance. These components remain very important but are not enough by themselves. They need more. They’re all talk—expression, explanation, declaration. We need the component deemed number two in importance to move the apology to a new level and make it more effective.
  • Offering a repair. The second most influential component in an apology is offering to fix the wrong, to undo the damage. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. The offer to repair the wrong moves the apology into the realm of action.
  • And, finally, the number 1 component of an effective apology is…acknowledgement of responsibility. Clearly stating you made a mistake, accepting fault, and taking responsibility is the number one component of an effective apology. Avoid blame. Offer no excuses. Just accept fault and acknowledge responsibility.

These six components of an effective apology could help resolve disagreements in our family. And, thankfully, you can teach these skills to your family. Encourage one another to accept responsibility for wrongs committed. Help one another consider ways to make repairs for wrongs committed, whether committed unintentionally or intentionally. Perhaps the best way to teach these six skills is by example. Model the six components in your own life. Model, model, model…and model again.

4 Tips to Improve Your Marriage from Bob Marley

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a quote by Bob Marley on relationships. He shares four actions that will make our marriages grow and prosper.

  1. Dancing CoupleMake one another laugh AND think. Share fun times together. Joke and play together. This will enhance your relationship. Fun and laughter increase intimacy in marriages; so play some games. Joke. Laugh…a lot. But, don’t forget that serious discussions also increase intimacy. Share your beliefs, values, and opinions with one another. You may disagree. That’s alright. Rather than get upset, refer to #4 in this list. Sharing and discussing these more serious matters also deepens your intimacy. Laugh AND think together.
  2. Admit your mistakes…and then make the necessary change. Apologies are necessary in any marriage. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. We will unintentionally hurt one another. When you make a mistake, admit it…no matter the circumstance. Apologize—no excuses, just an admission of wrongs done and a simple apology followed by a commitment to change. Then, and this is very important, follow through on the commitment to change.
  3. Hold on tight and share yourself. Commit yourself to the relationship. Emotions may wax and wane. Passions will rise and fall. You will experience good times and bad times in your marriage. However, when you give yourself to your spouse and invest in your marriage, emotions and passions eventually return, bloom, and blossom even more beautiful than the last time. Give your time and energy to making your spouse joyful. Hold on tight through the hard times and enjoy the ride. Your marriage will thank you!
  4. Accept your spouse. Don’t try to change your spouse. Don’t expect more than your spouse can give. Just accept them in all their uniqueness. Cherish their idiosyncrasies. Love them for who they are—the person you fell in love with.

These are 4 wise actions to nurture your marriage. In the words of Bob Marley:

“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect more than he can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy that is perfect for you.”

The Power of Sorry

forgivenote“Sorry” is an important word for a strong family. We all make mistakes. We all say and do things, accidentally or intentionally, that hurt other family members from time to time. Sorry helps bring restoration. I came across a quote that offers a tremendous summary of saying “sorry.” It not only shows how saying sorry leaves us vulnerable, but how it repairs and restores relationship. It elevates “sorry” to its proper place as a precious gift of healing. Hope you like the quote.

 

“Sorry.

Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people’s pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another.

Sorry is a lot of things. It’s a hole refilled. A debt repaid.

Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It’s the crippling ripple of consequence.

Sorry is sadness, just as knowing is sadness.

Sorry is sometimes self-pity.

But Sorry, really, is not about you. It’s theirs to take or leave.

Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge.

Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won’t settle until things are set right and true.

Sorry doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap.

Sorry is a sacrament. It’s an offering. A gift.” ― Craig Silvey, Jasper Jones

Practice saying “sorry” as often as needed with your spouse, your children, and your parents. Your family will grow stronger and more intimate each time you accept the responsibility of “sorry.”

Hard Words for a Strong Family Bond

Some things are difficult to say. They leave us vulnerable and at the mercy of the other person. These same phrases, however, are often the statements most necessary to preserve and strengthen our relationships with our spouses, children, and parents.  These difficult statements are actually treasures of the heart that we protect with great caution. Let me share some of these treasures—difficult statements that can strengthen your family relationships even though we struggle to give them voice. Practice them as often as needed.hearts in the sand

  • I’m sorry.
  • You were right.
  • I was wrong.
  • I need your help.
  • I don’t know.
  • Will you forgive me?
  • I’m hurt.
  • I deserve what I get because I really messed up.
  • I’m letting this go. (And then really doing it.)
  • I’m scared.
  • I forgive you.
  • Good-bye. (i.e., to a family member leaving for college.)
  • I do. (As in “who gives this woman to be married?” “I do.”)

 

Let me end with a quote from Stephen King that describes difficult words to say…and the need to state them.

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” –Stephen King

The Hardest Word–A Testimony

I agree with Elton John when he sings, “Oh it seems to me that sorry seems to be the hardest word.” Still, I have to say it. My actions and words have driven a wedge between my forgivenotewife and me. I have torn at the fabric of our relationship. I acted inappropriately. No, that sounds like a therapist. I was just plain wrong. I yelled for no reason. I hurt her with a harsh tone and angry words. I was wrong. I have to tell her I’m sorry.  So, why is it so hard to apologize, anyway? Nobody likes to admit they were wrong, especially me. And, apologizing makes me feel so vulnerable. But, I have to take responsibility for my offense.

 

Where is she? There she is, in the living room. I hope she accepts my apology. Our relationship rests in her hands, the hands of the one I hurt…and still love. That’s the point. I really want a relationship with her. I hope my actions have not damaged our relationship. There is only one way to find out…apologize. I sit down on a chair near her. I know that my apology will open the door for her to tell me the depth of pain I caused.  I hate that I hurt her.

 

“Ummm,” I hesitate…eyes to the ground. “I’m sorry I yelled. I was wrong. I should not have said the things I said.” I want to add a “but you” or “If you wouldn’t have.” I want to defend my action, justify it in response to what she did. But I’m not going to. Benjamin Franklin was right, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Besides, I was wrong…regardless of any excuse or rational, I was wrong. I have to acknowledge that. “I feel bad. I don’t want to hurt you.” There, I said it…. And, it’s true. I do feel bad. I am sorry. I was wrong. I slowly look up at my wife. “Next time I won’t yell. I’ll take a deep breath or something and think before I yell.” What else could I do different. I know…”And, if I think I might yell, I’ll take a time out or something.”

 

For the first time, a small smile begins to form on my wife’s face. “Will you sit in the time out chair?” She was referring to the miniature chair we had seen the “Super Nanny” use the other night. She chuckled. “I’m just joking,” she said. “But maybe it would be better to take a break for a few minutes when we get that way.”

 

It is good to see her smile. “You’re right. I’ll do that. And I’ll look at those crazy repair statements for something to say.” We both laugh a little as I walk toward her. I hold out my hand and she takes it in hers. I help her to her feet as we embrace one another. “I really am sorry,” I repeat.

 

“Me too,” she replies. “I’ll try to not ask so many questions when you’re upset.”

 

She does understand! “Thank you. I love you.”

 

A sincere apology strengthens relationship and restores trust. It communicates how much you value the other person and our relationship with them. By apologizing we also accept responsibility for our actions…no excuses, no defending, no blaming. We simply accept responsibility for our actions and our words; we take the log out of our own eye. Doing so opens the door for change. Sorry may be the hardest word to say, but it communicates and restores respect, dignity, and love to the relationship.

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