An Apology Done Well is Important to Your Happiness As a Couple.
Ok, so you messed up. You forgot your partner’s birthday, or you didn’t bring home the dry cleaning. You insulted the annoying friend, or sulked when your loved one went out instead of doing something with you.
At times partners annoy or injure each other, or have bad days and pet peeves. Sometimes we’re stubborn or overly sensitive. We’re human.
Why It’s Hard to Say Sorry Sometimes
Many people find it tough to apologize in a way that mends the breach. Maybe we feel “weak” if we admit a failure or mistake. We may feel our partner’s expectations are too high, or are unrealistic.
These sore places can become lasting wounds if they are repeated too many times. Then, we may even dismiss our own feelings to keep from being flooded by shame or guilt. But this makes matters worse.
How Apologies Keep You On Course for A Happy Relationship
Making repairs is essential to a long and happy relationship. Growing old and happy together is like shooting a rocket to the moon. If your trajectory is a little off, and you don’t correct it, over time the rocket veers farther and farther off course.
You need little corrections for small hurt feelings. You’ll need bigger corrections for bigger ruptures that have left your partner feeling betrayed or abandoned.
How to Apologize Appropriately
What goes into an effective apology?
First, listen as openly as you can. Acknowledge your partner’s hurt and anger. Validate how it makes sense to you. For example:
“So I went out with the boys, my cell battery ran out, and you couldn’t reach me. And when the baby got sick and you were scared, that was really hard. I can see how you felt left alone without help, with our baby running a fever.”
Then put your own feelings into words; say how your partner’s experience affects you.
“It makes me feel awful that I wasn’t there for you when you were scared.”
This a great time for your genuine empathy and concern to shine through.
Then, share your intentions for the future:
“I want us to be partners as parents, always. What would help when I’m at work or away, and you are home with our baby?”
Offer a Helpful Explanation Without Getting Defensive
Sometimes it’s helpful to explain what was happening with you that contributed to the mishap. This isn’t to deflect blame or make excuses. You explain in order to be more predictable and therefore more dependable for your partner.
For instance, to continue our example:
“Last night I was about to plug in my phone when the dog started barking, and I got distracted and forgot. I was in a rush when I left, and didn’t realize it wasn’t charged. I’m so sorry that meant you couldn’t reach me.”
It’s important to say what happened only after your partner feels completely understood first.
What To Do About Really Serious Mistakes
What about the bigger injuries – the ones that really rock the foundation of your partner’s faith in being important to you, safe with you, known by you?
When the hurt in your relationship is serious, you may want a therapist trained in helping couples past the really tough spots. The injured partner will need room to share in great detail and with core feeling, the sense of betrayal, loss or abandonment. It will likely be very hard for the other partner to hear without becoming defensive.
A good therapist will help you both face and talk about those deep hurt feelings with each other. The way to regain safety and connection is for the injured person to feel heard, understood, and confident that the hurt is of great concern to their partner.
For instance, after an emotional or physical affair, the injured person may need to revisit different moments of anger, hurt and betrayal many times before feeling sure their partner “gets it” and won’t repeat the affair.
Apologies Enable Stronger Bonds to Grow
Helpful apologies make the bonds stronger. They help us re-experience that we really matter to our mates. Everybody needs a second chance, a time to repair something or do something over. We need to know our partner can have compassion for our blind spots, natural selfishness, and insensitivity. We need to know that our partner has our back.