Don’t you think you owe me an apology?!
We just fight until one of us gives up or shuts down!
Nobody is perfect!
No relationship is perfect!
We all make mistakes. Learning how to repair things appropriately can actually rebuild the relationship stronger than before.
If you’re like most of us, you didn’t get a course in relationships and communication. I mean you did. It was modeled to you throughout your life. But it wasn’t expressly taught like a math or history class. We learned from our family of origin and our previous relationships.
Some families are good at communication and making repair attempts. Other families never learned or modeled the crucial art of making an apology. In some families you always had to apologize while other family members never had to apologize.
Recent studies have found that apologizing to your spouse and asking for forgiveness are crucial ingredients in a successful relationship. Apologizing to your partner when appropriate will validate their feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow you both to move on from mistakes.
Here are 9 things that can help make a good repair:
- Test the waters with your partner. Before you jump into an apology, make sure your partner has calmed down to the point that they are able to hear you and respond positively. We all have different speeds and styles of processing. Not to mention, some wounds are bigger than others and take a bit more time. Once we have hit emotional flooding, it’s recommended that you call a timeout and separate for 35-45 minutes at least. The Gottman Institute says to aim for anywhere between 35 minutes – 23 hours whenever possible so as to not let things fester and drive a wedge.
- Make eye contact with your partner. This can often be difficult because both eye contact and apologizing make us extremely vulnerable. But, it can improve rebuilding the damaged connection between you and your partner.
- Outline two reasons you feel sorry for the hurt or injury that your words/actions caused your partner. Gaining awareness of the emotions you experience about your own past hurt can help you feel empathy for your partner. Ask yourself: why did I feel the need to behave in a way that caused my partner pain or upset? Was my behavior intentional?
- Accept responsibility for your hurtful behavior. Acknowledge that you messed up by saying something like “I take responsibility for my actions and I’m sorry that they hurt you.” One person being able to do this can completely change the dynamic of the interaction. The Gottman’s explain: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.”
- Use the words “I am sorry” and “I was wrong” when you apologize. Your apology will more likely be heard and accepted if you actually use these words. Be specific about exactly what you did to hurt, humiliate, or embarrass your partner.
- Explain to your partner how you plan to repair the situation (if this is possible). Dr. Gary Chapman outlines the 5 Apology Languages in his best-selling books. For a large number of people, restitution is their primary apology language. An example of this is, “I’m sorry that I caused so much pain and as a way to try and make it up to you I will…”
- Describe why you said or did what you did without making excuses or blaming your partner or someone else. Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements can help you avoid the blame monster. For instance, you might say “I yelled at you because I had an awful day and need to go back to work. I am so sorry for treating you this way” rather than “You promised to have dinner ready at 6 pm and it aggravated me when you didn’t keep your promise.”
- Ask your partner to grant you forgiveness. Be specific about your actions and words that need to be forgiven. Be sure to do so when the setting is conducive to a private conversation and there aren’t any distractions (TV, cell phones, children in the room, etc.).
- Don’t let wounds and grudges poison your love for your spouse. Be vulnerable and don’t let your pride cause you to hold on to being “right.” Discussing what happened with your spouse and taking responsibility for your actions will allow you to let go of resentment so you can improve the quality of your relationship.
Some key things to NOT do:
- Don’t say, “I’m sorry you feel that way”. That’s not accepting responsibility for anything and is a passive aggressive way of saying the other person’s feelings are ‘wrong’. Rather than helping to repair things it can actually make things worse.
- Don’t make excuses. Make sure to accept responsibility for your part in the mistake. Saying things like, “I’m sorry; but, I only did that because you…”, will cause your partner to get defensive.
- Don’t gaslight. A tactic in which a person, in order to gain the upper hand, makes a person question their reality – often by invalidating their feelings, questioning their perception or memory and calling the other person “crazy” or “insane”, etc.
- Don’t go into a repair attempt expecting or demanding an apology in return. Yes, apologies often work best when they flow both ways. But, if you are only apologizing to hear the other person do the same, then it’s not very heartfelt.
Up Next: Relationship 911 – Apology Language
Previous Post: Relationship 911 – Surviving the Flood
Relevant Podcast Episodes – Relationship 911 Series