“If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” – G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World
Couples that come to me for help often are struggling with their differences. Many are under the illusion that a happy relationship demands compatibility. “We’re just too different,” they will assert. They become stuck in a cycle of disappointment because they believe they must be more alike in order to love each other and appreciate each other. They ask themselves, “Why can’t my spouse think like I do?” They miss opportunities to learn from each other and grow. They hold their differences in contempt rather than embracing and respecting them.
Often, what partners are really seeking is empathy. They are mistaking a desire for empathy as a desire for “sameness.” In reality, it was their differences that likely attracted them to each other in the first place. Now, due to lack of empathy and contempt, those attractions have become annoyances. They allow their disappointments to wound their friendship. Hence, they can’t “fight through” as a team and survive their incompatibilities.
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.