Did your last apology go sideways? Maybe even cause more damage? Soooo frustrating, right? Especially when you feel like your heart’s in the right place and you put yourself out there to try and make things right.
Before you decide your partner just wants to punish you and there’s no way to please her (or him), first do an “audit” and see if your apology might suffer from any of these flaws.
Did you apologize under duress?
Maybe your partner was demanding an apology, and in order to make up, you complied. Or you figured you had to do it, but still, your heart wasn’t quite in the right place yet. In this case your words probably had an angry edge: “I said I’m sorry!”
Sometimes, your head knows you were hurtful, but your heart isn’t there yet, or your body just hasn’t calmed down. Or maybe your head isn’t sure, either. Give yourself the time you need, to say what you mean. I know—you could be under heavy pressure to apologize NOW.
Try saying something like, “I really do want to talk to you about this. I’m sure the conversation will go better if you can just give me a little time to calm down and gather my thoughts first.”
No guarantees, but much better than the half-hearted or angry apology.
A lot of times people feel like they’re being asked to apologize for the whole problem unfairly.
This is when the dreaded “but” is likely to pop up. That word is so loaded. People hear: “What I just said? I didn’t really mean it at all.” Even though what you probably mean is: “I’m sorry, and I have feelings I want you to hear, too.”
So, don’t cave, give the required apology, and then edit it with the “but.” Much better to say exactly what you do mean.
Did you expect a quid pro quo?
Maybe you’re expecting an exchange, possibly another apology. Maybe on the heels of a conversation like the one above.
Brad told his wife, “I’m sorry I raised my voice at you. I know how much you hate that.”
Unconsciously, he expected her to say, “And I’m sorry I talked about your mother like that.”
When she didn’t, some of his goodwill evaporated, and she could feel it.
A true apology is given because you want to give. You are taking responsibility for whatever part you played in a problem, regardless of what the other person has done. Or will do.
Maybe there’s more talking to do. Maybe you have feelings to express. But your apology should stand on its own two feet. By all means don’t “retract” it, even non-verbally, because you don’t get what you think you deserve immediately.
An apology is an expression of caring and repair, not a trade.
Did you want to be rescued?
Todd felt like Janet’s apology was more like a confession. She came to him looking extremely nervous, spat out a torrent of words and then sat down suddenly in relief. She never really looked him in the eye.
He could feel that her purpose was to unburden herself and escape from the state of guilt she’d been in.
She looked SO uncomfortable that Todd actually had a lot of empathy for her. But another guy, with a deeper injury or less forgiving personality, might react differently. He might sense, consciously or not, that the apology was more for Janet than for him. And the apology wouldn’t hit its bullseye.
So, if your apology isn’t received with open arms, the problem could be on your partner’s side. Of course. We all know what that’s like.
But maybe you need to double-check to see whether your apology is really wholehearted. Do you really mean it? Are you ready? Does it come out of caring? And mostly, make sure it’s really for the other person’s benefit, more than for yourself.