How To Effectively Apologize
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We have all heard the story of the little Dutch boy who prevented a dangerous flood by simply plugging a hole in the dike with his finger. A quick google search of “Hans Brinker dike” will enlighten you if you don’t already know this story. In America, it would be similar to somebody sticking his or her finger into a hole in the Hoover Dam and being hailed as a hero for it. I see this story as a good analogy for apologies. When you apologize, you are in the prevention and reconciliation business. When you apologize, you can prevent hurt feelings and dangerous actions (e.g. slashed tires), and you also get to reconcile with your partner– which is just a fancy way of saying, “We cool now, right? You ain’t mad at me no more, right? So we can watch TV now, right? Yes? Okay, cool.” When you apologize, you become that little Dutch boy by preventing a horrific catastrophe by solving a giant problem in a very simple way.
Now, different situations require different apologies, but luckily, most apologies require little effort and just a lessening of our egos.
As Yoda might say, “Humble you must be when giving an apology.” The biggest obstacle to giving an apology- especially for men- is our ego. We (men) hate, hate hate, hate, HATE being wrong- or being judged for our “bad” behavior- or admitting we made a mistake- or admitting that we hurt someone else- or trying to understand how someone else could be so damn sensitive.
Women on the other hand (and I saw this on Oprah once) will apologize to a frickin’ coffee table for bumping into it! WOMEN APOLOGIZE TO INANIMATE OBJECTS!!! This makes no sense to me, but it just shows how on opposite ends of the spectrum men and women are on the topic of “apologizing:” men never want to while women do it as a reflex.
So like I said, different situations require different apologies. Here is a chart to help explain.
Definition: A situation in which a person is only mildly hurt physically or emotionally or slightly offended. Without an apology, forgiveness is likely to happen naturally with the passage of time.
Examples: making your partner the butt of a joke, missing a phone call or not responding to a text, accidentally stepping on your partner’s toe, accidentally hurting your partner’s feelings, forgetting to do something you said you would do, not doing something you said you would do because you got caught up in doing something else, hogging the covers… etc.
Female Forgiveness: (how to get a female to forgive you) Say “I’m sorry.” If followed by silence or agitation, say it again, “I really am sorry.” Remind her, “I love you.” A hug should seal the deal.
Male Forgiveness: (how to get a male to forgive you) We do not need or expect apologies for DEFCON 3 offenses. However, if you want us to totally forget what happened, just affectionately touch us somewhere, anywhere. Our brains get rewired when you touch us. Simply put your hand on his shoulder to induce amnesia.
Definition: A situation in which a person is very hurt emotionally or physically or extremely offended, and an apology is the only way to prevent an escalating argument or prolonged silence and/or grudges. Forgiveness is only offered based upon the sincerity and effort put into the apology.
Examples: Purposely insulting your partner, name-calling, continued condescension, forgetting a birthday or anniversary or previously scheduled engagement, wrecking your partner’s car, losing or destroying something your partner cherished, embarrassing your partner in some way, causing financial debt, accidentally breaking your partner’s leg or arm, bringing up something hurtful from the past, causing difficulties with family or friends, snooping through your partner’s phone, caught lying for the FIRST TIME… etc.
Female Forgiveness: “I’m sorry” with the modifiers “so” or “very” or “extremely” or all three. “I am so so so very extremely sorry.” Followed up with a hand written note or card explaining how much you love her and how truly sorry you are. Self deprecate- explain how “stupid” it was of you to do whatever you did. Flowers, boxes of chocolates, balloons, jewelry. If property was damaged, let her know you will fix or replace it. If none of this works, get down on your knees in front of her and cry. Beg her to forgive you. Remind her how much you love her. Remind her how sorry you are. Assure her it won’t happen again.
Male Forgiveness: Hearing an honest “I’m so so sorry,” is a good start. But men only want one thing when we’ve been hurt this bad, and I know you know what it is. Even if he’s giving you the silent treatment and ignoring everything you say and tears are streaming down his cheek- there’s only one way a guy knows you really love him and that you want to be forgiven. Words will not fix a DEFCON 2 offense against a male. Come on, you know what he wants- actually needs- HE NEEDS THIS in order to forgive you… don’t make me say it. (sex)
Definition: A situation in which one person in a relationship is so severely hurt by the other that separation or divorce is imminent. One must go to extreme measures to seek forgiveness, though forgiveness may not be attainable.
Examples: Caught lying MULTIPLE times, cheating on your partner, burning down the house, attempted murder, your partner got you fired from your job, uttering the words, “I hate you” to your partner, stealing from your partner, endangering the lives of your partner or children in some way, hiding an addiction from your partner (gambling, shopping, alcohol, drugs, porn), physical abuse, repeated emotional abuse, purposely trying to sabotage the relationship… etc.
Female Forgiveness: Same as DEFCON 2, but more begging, more tears, more “I’m sorries,” 10 pages of handwritten love letters, and beg her to go to couples counseling. If she ignores you or tells you to stop contacting her, give her time and then attempt to go through the same steps again once she is willing to acknowledge you still exist. There is NO GUARANTEE of forgiveness for a DEFCON 1 offense. If you are forgiven, count your lucky stars and NEVER commit another DEFCON 1 offense ever again so long as you both shall live.
Male Forgiveness: Say you’re sorry with lots and lots of tears. Offer to set up an appointment for couples counseling. Find out what his ULTIMATE sexual fantasy is. Do it. Still, there is no guarantee of total forgiveness, but if you are forgiven, never commit another DEFCON 1 offense ever again so long as you both shall live.
I once knew a guy who was cheated on by his girlfriend. She fulfilled his ultimate sexual fantasy and now they are married. I don’t keep in touch with him so I don’t know if they are happily married, but they were engaged for like 7 years and finally a couples counselor told them to set a wedding date. And there you have it- apologies 101.
In order to effectively apologize you have to first understand what apologizing means.
What does it mean to apologize?
An apology does not necessarily mean that you did something wrong and that you are acknowledging that you did by apologizing. Maybe you did. We are all human. We all make mistakes. So even if you did, at least you are acknowledging it. In this case, the other person, if they are mature, is going to see the vulnerability and humility in your apology and respect you more for admitting your wrong then if you tried to come up with an excuse.
But, there are cases where maybe you didn’t do anything wrong at all. Maybe you inadvertently hurt the other person’s feelings. For example, let’s say your wife told you that she wanted to have a family dinner out after she got done with work, and she told you the day before. You, forgetting that your wife told you this, got hungry and ate a big meal right before your wife got home from work. Your wife is probably going to be upset that you did this. In this case it was an accident. You didn’t mean to upset her, you got hungry and forgot. Apologizing would be an appropriate response. Why? Not because you purposely did something wrong, but because you upset your wife. It’s not the action that you are apologizing for, but the feeling that you accidentally caused your wife to have, the feeling of upset (and probably also sad because she was looking forward to having a nice dinner out together).
Your partner is the person you love and care about. By apologizing you are letting your partner know that you understand how they feel, you care about how they feel, and you don’t want them to feel that way.
There are people who don’t apologize at all or very rarely. I believe people who don’t apologize either; one, don’t like to admit that they did anything wrong; or two, think that because THEY don’t complain when their feelings are hurt that other people shouldn’t either. They think that other people should “suck it up” just like they do.
But, what if these same people who don’t apologize DID complain? What if they DID say how they felt? Why not let it out instead of “sucking it up”? If your partner cares about you then they will address how you feel, try to understand, and apologize. What harm is in that? You feel better. Isn’t that what you would rather have then always “sucking it up”? I would hope so.
You feel better. That is the goal here, isn’t it? So why wouldn’t you want that for your partner in return? Wouldn’t it make you feel good to know that your partner feels good? If your answer to this is yes, then great! Apologizing is a great step in accomplishing this. If you answered no, then you may want to evaluate your relationship and weather you should be putting your partner through something that you are not fully committed to.
Now that we understand what apologizing means, that we don’t want our partner’s feelings to be hurt, we can then begin to effectively apologize.
How do you effectively apologize?
Simply say “I’m sorry”, and do it right away.
In the example above where the husband forgot about his wife’s dinner plans, the husband could say something like, “I’m sorry, hunny. I didn’t mean to upset you. I forgot.” Then he could even follow it up by saying that he’ll make up for it in the future by planning out a nice dinner.
“I’m sorry” is such a simple phrase. But, is goes a long way for the person that you love.
There are also people who apologize and don’t mean it. I’ve heard my share of apologies that did not sound genuine. Oh, do they make my blood boil. You might as well have just thrown my feelings on the floor and jumped on them, like stomping grapes in a basket. I’ve also had to ask for an apology. At this point, if I have to ask, your apology no longer has any validity, because you didn’t apologize out of your own good will.
Disingenuous apologies are like slaps in the face. It’s basically telling your partner that you don’t love them enough to be truthful with them. This is NOT an effective way of apologizing. If you don’t mean it then don’t say it.
You have to mean it and believe it when you say “I’m sorry”. How do you mean it? Well, answer this question, do you love your partner? Yes? Then when you are saying “I’m sorry” think of it like saying “I love you”. Every time you say “I’m sorry” you are ultimately saying “I love you”. If you say it in this way then it will be genuine and you will mean it when you say it.
Lastly, what if you apologize, mean it, and your partner doesn’t believe you? How do you respond?
How do you let your partner know that you mean “I’m sorry”?
One reason that someone may not believe you when you apologize is because either you may not have been genuine with apologies in the past or because you may be making the same mistake over and over again. In either case, you need to show them even more this time that you do mean what you say. How? By changing your actions. You may be apologizing, but your actions aren’t showing this. Look, we all forget, and we all make mistakes. We can keep making the same mistake over and over again. We are human. It’s going to happen. So admit it, and put measures into place to show that you are trying. For example, set reminders in your phone, make a check list, or ask your partner to remind you if you know you are the type of person that is forgetful.
Does this seem like a lot of work? It shouldn’t. Not when you love your partner. I mean, what do you do for family, friends, and work? Do you set your alarm to remind you to wake up if there’s a family event or you have to go to work? Most likely so. Why not do the same for your partner? Why not give the same respect for your partner as you do for your family and friends?