Let me first say that I am writing this post with plenty of experience on apologizing, or rather, the lack thereof. I did not realize until I was in my first serious relationship how extremely difficult it was for me to apologize. Why? Well, think about it. By apologizing, you are admitting that you are WRONG. Admitting that you are wrong is probably the hardest thing in the world to do, for anyone. It does not feel like rainbows and butterflies when you are admitting that you are wrong either because A) you were wrong B) because you don’t feel that you were really wrong but know that is the only way to make the situation better, or C) you know you were wrong but you don’t want to give that other person any satisfaction of hearing your apology. I am going to give you some examples of how not to apologize to your spouse, co-worker, family, friend, basically anyone you are in a relationship with. But since most of my apologizing has been to my husband, I will use him as an example.
Here is the scenario:
When throwing away Xander’s old pair of shoes, Xander comes home to find them missing, and naturally, starts crying.
Bad apology #1 – The Attack Apology (It looks like an apology because there is an “I’m sorry” in there, but that sorry is for the other person and how wrong they are.)
“I’m sorry that you are sad I threw away your shoes, Xander. But really, what is wrong with you? The shoes are 10 years old, you never wear them, they are ugly as sin, and you have 20 other pairs of shoes you could wear. I mean, seriously? Are you really crying about one pair of shoes right now?”
With this apology, notice how I don’t really seem sorry at all, and the only thing I am truly sorry about is how dumb my husband is being. I am saying, I’m sorry that you are sad about this, because obviously, I am right and you are wrong. Then the rest is a full-on attack. What reaction could I expect from this? Not a good one. Most likely when you use an attack apology, the other person is thinking of their own attacks they are going to say about you.
Bad apology #2 The Excuses Apology
“I do realize that I threw away your shoes and that made you upset. But Xander, I only did this because I noticed that you never wear them, like ever. I was only looking out for you and your closet, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but it’s overfilling with all your other 100 pairs of shoes.”
It kind of sounds like an apology, doesn’t it? But notice that it’s mostly a sonnet to how right I was in my actions, and therefore completely justified. It’s the excuses apology, where you go on and on defending why you did the things that you did. But is that really what the other person who has been hurt wants to hear right now? No. They have been hurt, and you need to make sure you have properly apologized. Notice as well that no “I’m sorry” was actually said. The apology sounds like one, and it is assumed that you are sorry, but you never get to actually say it (it’s called pride my friends.)
Bad Apology # 3 “The Other People Agree with Me” Apology
“I’m sorry I threw away your shoes Xander, but honestly everyone else agrees that you own way too many pairs of shoes. They wonder how I put up with it at all. You should be glad that I’m not like other wives who constantly throw away their husband’s gross things all the time. You should consider yourself lucky to have me!”
Now, do you think Alexander really cares at this very moment how many other people agree with me? Hells to the no. All he sees is the action that I have done. I betrayed his trust. I was the one who threw away the nasty caca shoes. By me telling him how much other people agree with me, that will only fuel the fire more and make him angry or self-conscious around my friends/family.
As you could probably guess, all three of these apologies have not really worked out so well for me. I know my husband now better than ever, and I know exactly how my words can hurt. How I began mastering the science of apologies is by putting myself in his shoes and realizing how much it hurt when people treated me the same way. It was kind of like a light bulb moment for me. “Hey, this ISN’T the best way to go about this. I could be MUCH nicer. I think I’m going to work on that.”
How to apologize: The Golden Apology
“I understand that it hurt you when I threw away your shoes without asking. I am truly sorry for any pain I caused you, I know how much those shoes meant to you. I realize that I may have ruined your trust in me, which I value greatly, and I promise you I will never do this again.”
Now isn’t that the perfect apology? Easier said than done right? Could you imagine how much healthier relationships would be if everyone could apologize like that? I’m not saying that I am the queen apologizer and you should learn from how awesome I am. Not at all. It took a lot for me to realize how to apologize (to this day I still suck at it, trust me.) It definitely does not come natural to me. Maybe you grew up in a home where your parents were perfect apologizers and you learned well. Good for you. For the rest of us, it is damn hard to apologize. And not to just “apologize” but doing it the right way. Swallowing your pride, killing that burning desire to be right 100% of the time, and not going into full attack mode is not easy. But trust me, if I could slowly learn to do it, you can too! I suggest trying to put yourself into their shoes, understand their needs, and do your best to make sure that any feelings that were hurt have now been rectified.
P.S. No shoes were harmed or thrown away in the writing of this blog post.