The Right Way To Apologize

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Dear Dr. Darcy:

My daughter and I have had a very tumultuous relationship throughout her life. We’ve had periods of time when we’ve been very close and times when we have fought like feral cats. We’ve also had times when she wouldn’t speak to me. Unfortunately, I’m in one of those periods of time now.

My daughter’s father was abusive to both me and her when she was growing up. I’ve apologized for this repeatedly over the years. My daughter knows that I married young – that I was barely 20 – hardly able to take care of myself let alone her. She understands all of this but every few years she gets a bug in her bonnet and starts reliving history all over again and it either ends with us in a fight or her not speaking to me. Dr. Darcy, I know you’re a big fan of forgiveness. How can I help my daughter to forgive?

ANSWER

You’ve actually been giving your daughter excuses wrapped up in apologies – which is very different from a straight up apology. And this is why your apologies don’t provoke forgiveness. In the moment she may accept them, but they have a very short shelf life, and before she knows it, she finds herself angry again.

A proper apology is actually devoid of your side of the story. It sounds like this: “I’m sorry that I didn’t protect you from your father. I should have left him. And I shouldn’t have given you a bunch of excuses for why I didn’t protect you. I made it sound as though it was out of my control, when the truth is I was the adult and the only one who could have protected you from him. Please accept my apology.”

Try just apologizing. Don’t go beyond the sale. Don’t try and make yourself look like a victim or a hero. You were the adult. And you failed to protect her. Leave history alone – stop trying to rewrite it and maybe your daughter will be able to look towards a future with you.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Heterosexual.