When “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Enough

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Q:

Dear Dr. Darcy:
Is there a right way to apologize to someone?  I fucked up, she's mad, and the words "I'm sorry" are not going to make her feel any better :(

 

A:

Short and to the point.  I love that my title is almost as long as your question, which, by the way, is a brilliant one.

Generally speaking, humans (I’m speaking of her) have two primary needs:

First, we need to know that our listener is actively listening and hears what we’re saying.

Second, we need to know that what we’re saying makes sense ~ that we don’t sound crazy. 

Perfect the ability to do these two things for people with whom you’re in a relationship and life will become much, much easier for you.

Unfortunately, most of us get caught up in wanting to ‘explain’ ourselves.  The person who we’ve wronged rarely wants to hear why we’ve been a douche bag, and expressing any sort of explanation is selfish and likely to emotionally escalate the person whom we’d like forgiveness from.  So rule number one, control the urge to explain.

When we hurt someone deeply, like when we cheat, saying I’m sorry isn’t even close enough to what is necessary to reconcile.  We need to allow our partner to tell us, in as much detail as they need, how we’ve hurt them.

Then we need to demonstrate to our partner that a) We’ve heard what they’re saying (we do this by paraphrasing what we heard them say – if you tend to be long-winded and add too much of your own words, stick to her exact language and quote what you heard her say) and b) that what they said makes sense to us.  When you get this right, you give your partner what is needed to begin the process of forgiveness. I’m not saying she will, but you’ll at least have done your part. And if that doesn’t work, you can always offer to go into couple’s counseling. 

Good luck.


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