Apologizing: Some Basics

Elton John sang the song, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” Why is it so hard to apologize? Some people have a more difficult time than others, but most of us don’t like to do it. How can we make it easier?

First, it requires that we swallow our pride and admit to being wrong or neglectful about something. Who likes being wrong? We’re all imperfect human beings, but we don’t like to admit it. We fear failure. Failure makes us look less than we want to be. So, we hesitate to apologize out of fear. How can we conquer the fear?

There’s nothing wrong with setting a high bar to strive for. However, we must realize that human beings learn largely through failure. It’s how we learn to walk, for example. Even after we learn to walk, we still stumble sometimes. It’s called being human. So, conquering the fear involves accepting our humanity and being open to learning. Learning is a good thing. Embrace it. Have a teachable spirit. We all have something to learn. Those unwilling to learn won’t grow much. They also tend to have problematic relationships.

Secondly, it helps to understand that a genuine apology is a gift. When you give a person a gift, they tend to warm up to you. There is a bit of a risk involved, because not everyone knows how to graciously accept a gift. Give the gift anyway. Take the risk. More often than not, a genuine apology will bring healing and fuel connection between people.

Thirdly, make sure the apology is genuine. An apology that is crafted only to “get you out of trouble” is usually easy to spot, and it only leads to more hurt. A genuine apology acknowledges the hurt caused, takes responsibility for one’s role in the hurt, and commits to avoiding the hurt in the future. An apology is about making amends, not dodging responsibility.

The healing that a genuine apology can promote far outweighs the discomfort of giving the apology. It’s worth the effort. Next, we’ll explore the importance of accepting an apology graciously.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Part Four

The last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is called stonewalling. Unlike the other three horsemen, rather than continuing to plod through toxic interactions, stonewalling just stops and turns away.

A person that stonewalls disengages from the dialogue. It’s as if the person “disappears” leaving the partner grasping for connection. Typically, stonewalling is an attempt at self-soothing. A person may feel overwhelmed or “flooded” by the interactions and decide to check out. Essentially, it’s a way to calm down, but it results in a deeply wounded partner.

Men stonewall at a higher percentage than women, while women tend to criticize much more than men. This often leads to a “dance” where flooded men check out and hurt women become more critical. The cycle leads to a downward spiral unless more empathetic and constructive repairs can be made in the dialogue by both partners.

Stonewalling is a “turning away” from one’s partner. The solution is to self-sooth in ways that “turn towards” one’s partner with empathy. Sometimes it can help to take a break from the dialogue, as long as there is an agreed upon time to pick it up again. That way neither partner feels abandoned or disrespected by the other.

In this short, four-part series, we have seen four characteristics of relationships that partners need to be vigilant about. Most relationships experience some of the four horsemen at times. However, couples that remain happy have much lower levels than couples that separate. Happy couples have a greater ability to repair the dialogue. This is especially true when the dialogue is about perpetual problems that keep surfacing throughout the relationship.

A helpful rule of thumb is to attack the problem, not each other.