Scenario: Joy and Rich were arguing more often than they ever had before during their five years of marriage. Financially, things were going well. Rich had landed a good job upon graduating from college. Joy had worked full-time for the first two years until the baby came. In Joy’s words: “Really, our lives are wonderful. The only problem is, Rich is never willing to apologize. When he gets upset because things don’t go his way, he lashes out at me in anger. Instead of apologizing, he blames me for his anger. It’s like he can do no wrong.”
What to Say:
Joy: Lets talk about mistakes. We all make them and I try to admit mine. I’ve noticed that you rarely admit it when you are at fault. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Rich: I don’t think it’s right to apologize for something when it’s not your fault or if you didn’t mean to do it.
Joy: I disagree. If you bump into me and I spill my coffee, that’s an accident but I’d still like for you to apologize to me.
Rich: Part of me feels like apologizing is for sissies but another part of me knows what you are saying. I’m just not very good at apologizing. It makes me feel bad when I have to apologize.
Joy: It would mean a lot to me if you’ll practice apologizing until you make it a habit. I feel like there are barriers between us and I would feel closer to you if you could just admit it when you are wrong.
Rich: Sometimes I don’t like to apologize because people pounce on me and make me feel worse about myself.
Joy: I promise to take it easy on you. I won’t pile on and say, “And another thing…”
Rich: OK I’ll give it a try. Now let’s go do something else.
Why This Works:
Joy calmly points out something that has been bothering her about Rich. Joy asks Rich if he sees the pattern of non-apology that she sees. He agrees and admits that he avoids apologizing. From there, they can work on a plan to help him feel safe admitting it when he makes a mistake. Offenses are inevitable. The important thing is to be able to apologize to remove the walls that are built up when we don’t apologize quickly and effectively.
What Doesn’t Work:
Notice that Joy didn’t bring up everything that bothers her about Rich. That would have backfired by making him feel overwhelmed and unloved. Bringing up one issue at a time is usually a safe strategy.
What to Say or Do Next:
Joy pointed out a blind spot to Rich. Next, she could ask him if there is anything he’d like to see her work on. Keeping the lines of communication open and asking for feedback is good advice in marriage, with friends, and even at the office.
Talk About It:
- Talk about how difficult it is for you to apologize. Does it depend upon who is involved?
- How were you treated as a child when you made mistakes? Note: Kids who got in big trouble for little things are likely to grow up and keep trying to hide their mistakes.
- What do you most like to hear in an apology?
Stephen and Alex Kendrick, brothers and authors of the bestselling marriage book, The Love Dare (2008) say this: “Part of taking responsibility is admitting when you’ve failed and asking for forgiveness. It’s time to humble yourself, correct your offenses, and repair the damage” (p.128).