Has a friend sent you a critical message? I call those “email bombs” or “text bombs.” That’s not a fun way to start the day. Is your sweetheart giving you the cold shoulder? I can relate to it all.
Ten years ago, my husband and I had an argument. It was a run of the mill spat, but the timing of the argument was rather embarrassing. You see, we were going to lead a seminar for young couples the following day. What was our lecture topic? Conflict resolution. As they say, “timing is everything,” so we had some fresh material for our class.
That day, I was largely at fault and so I said, “I’m sorry” about my careless mistake. My husband is usually pretty easygoing, but he was untouched by my apology. What it lacked in elegance, I thought it made up in simplicity. Not so, in my husband’s mind. “Sorry” was definitely not enough for him that day.
Since J.T. was still irritated with me, we tried to talk it over. I asked him what was wrong and he said it was just that he wished I would apologize. I thought, “What? I did apologize!” Normally, I might have gotten ornery but on this particular day, my counseling skills kicked in and I became curious.
I replied, “I said I was sorry…. what were you looking for?” Now take a second, please, and imagine what he might have been waiting to hear in my apology….Can you guess what he said? He knew right away what he was waiting to hear: That I was wrong.
Because I knew that I was at fault, I quickly offered a revised apology that included my wrongdoing. The result? A happy evening in which I was out of the “dog house.”
In writing our new book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough (co-authored by Gary Chapman), we found that my experience is common. Have you ever delivered an apology that was not received? Do you know the pain of being rejected by a loved one?
I’ve been there myself. Once, I was rejected by a close friend who twisted my words and used them against me. I cried off and on for weeks. With time, I moved on but I still missed my former friend and thought of her almost daily. After seven long years, I reached out to my friend once more. I was really surprised when she said she was glad to hear from me. I know that not all stories end this way, but my friend and I enjoyed a sweet reconciliation.
I advise people about what they can do to make things right with others. I tell them, “When you know you’ve offended someone, you should act with urgency to repair the problem. Spell out what you have done wrong, how this has “put out” the other person, show concern for them, and explain what will truly be different next time.”
In order to give the most successful apologies, you should ask the people close to you what they most like to hear in an apology. After you learn the apology languages of your friends and family members, your apologies will have focus. These apologies will hit their mark and cool down heated arguments.
It’s Your Turn:
What are your thoughts about apologies?
How do you try to make things right with others?
This post is part of a piece I originally wrote for a blog called (in)courage that included Gary Chapman and myself among their seven recommended authors for the Fall. We got a great response with 375 comments from readers. To find the comments and my replies about this post, please join our conversation at (in)courage.