26 Feb Saying “Sorry” Is a Brave Move
Saying “Sorry” Is a Brave Move:
My wife picked me up from work the other day and had a song waiting to play for me. She said, “Listen to this, it could be a theme song for couple counseling.”
The song was a new one from P!nk featuring Chris Stapleton called, Just Say I’m Sorry. It’s a stripped down gorgeous song. Chris Stapleton pleads in his deep, bluesy voice, “Just say you’re wrong sometimes.. and I’ll believe you ’cause I love you.” The drawn out plaintive plea went straight to my heart. Yes, this song is a perfect relationship skills moment.
As a therapist who works with couples, I have observed relationships in trouble because winning at all costs – being right – has become more important than being loving.
In therapy as at home, when someone is brave enough to say, “You know, you’re right, I’m sorry,” the tension in the room changes. Honestly, it generally catches the other person off guard if apologies are rare within the couple system. The simple, but hard words, “I was wrong, I’m sorry,” disrupt a dysfunctional system of communicating.
Partners are able to compromise and accept influence. Competitors are not. Saying sorry because you did or said something wrong is a brave move when winning has become top priority.
Striving to be right, save face, or win an argument are social norms. Despite this drive, it is relationally important to say “I’m sorry” when our words or behavior hurt someone we love. In many families, apologizing because you have to or not at all is taught and/or modeled by parents. I certainly remember being forced to apologize to my little sister. My apology consisted of muttering “I’m sorry” with a sneer. Not exactly a relationship master class.
My experience is not unique. We learn to say “I’m sorry, but…” which essentially negates the apology and generally goes on to explain how your behavior was unavoidable or that you were actually right or that your partner is too sensitive which is why they got their feelings hurt.
- I’m sorry, but I was running late.
- I’m sorry, but you aren’t feeding the baby right.
- I’m sorry, but I was just joking.
If this is your way of apologizing, it’s better to stay quiet.
An apology might be used to keep the peace. A quick “I’m sorry, you were right” whenever your partner is angry is not a genuine apology either. When this happens, it is typically because one partner just wants to quit fighting. Harmony is more important than being right. If this is you, it might be hard to be assertive during conflict; to stand up for your own needs.
This may seem like a particularly feminine issue. After all, as women we can tend to over apologize. Especially when what we really mean is, “Excuse me.” However, my anecdotal evidence points to this happening with men more often.
In the recent issue of Psychology Today, Avrum Weiss, author of Hidden in Plain Sight,: How Men’s Fears of Women Shape Their Intimate Relationships, says that to avoid women being angry at them, men willingly contort themselves to almost any extent. For example, saying sorry when they mean anything but.
Saying sorry when you do not believe you were wrong is harmful to the relationship. An apology just to shut something down does not let your partner know how you really feel. The over apology could be interpreted as not taking the issue seriously or that your partner’s anger is too much to deal with; overwhelming.
And then, there are the individuals who do not apologize no matter what. Apologies are seen as weak, giving in, or being a wimp. The idea of wrongdoing may bring shame or cause a feeling of failure.
Sometimes this is the person that gives gifts or performs an act of service when they have done something wrong. Better than no action, however, it does not acknowledge the hurt that has been caused.
What the non-apologizer does not realize is that their partner is still waiting for the apology. Maybe for years. Even if they appreciated the bouquet of roses and clean kitchen.
In the absence of apology, resentment grows and grows. It is hard to have a truly open and loving relationship when one partner is deeply hurt by actions in the past.
Just Say You’re Sorry Authentically
So what’s best? To quote P!nk:
“Just say, ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s not the hardest thing to do. Just say you’re wrong sometimes.”
This about covers it. A good apology speaks to what was done wrong and why you are sorry. It takes letting go of pride and feeling the discomfort of shame or guilt that comes from hurting someone you love either purposely or unconsciously.
Allowing yourself to listen to what your partner has to say about how it felt is necessary. Try to be open to discussing what could be done differently next time.
- I am sorry I was late. I know you had dinner planned, it looks amazing. What can I do for you now?
- I am sorry I took the bottle out of your hand when you were feeding the baby. That might have felt like I don’t trust you and I do. I’m sorry.
- I am sorry I said something about your shirt not fitting. I can see it hurt your feelings. I should not have said that – period.
Apologizing authentically is a relationship gift. It is a brave move that decreases resentment, increases trust, and deepens intimacy.
True, I may not have received a master class in apologies. I learned the hard way by making many mistakes before I mostly started getting it right. Over 26 years together, my wife would say that I have had lots of practice!
The album is, of course, awesome!
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Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.