Overcoming that aversion is one of the keys to having an extraordinary marriage.
I’m Sorry … That’s All I Can Say – When one of you makes a mistake or forgets to do something that you said you would, saying “I’m sorry” can change an angry argument into a constructive discussion. Those two little words can work miracles! There is only one problem. Almost everyone has an aversion to apologizing. Overcoming that aversion is one of the keys to having an extraordinary marriage.
➤ The importance of admitting fault
➤ Why it’s so hard to say “I’m sorry”
➤ Placing the blame on something or someone else ➤ How to avoid carrying a grudge
We All Make Mistakes
There is an expression that we use when we make a mistake: “I’m only human.” We’re saying that everybody makes mistakes, so what we did is okay. And it is okay, as long as we take personal responsibility for our wrongdoing. Saying “sorry” but not mean- ing it or not intending to improve our actions will cause a lack of trust to develop. Saying “I’m sorry” and admitting that we did something wrong is the first step to self- improvement. Being unable to apologize is a recipe for a brittle marriage. Saying “I’m sorry” gives a marriage the resiliency to weather both partners’ mistakes.
Trent had difficulty taking responsibility for his actions. He had agreed to come home at six o’clock every night, which was very important to his wife, Holly. She worked part-time so that she could be with their infant during the day, and she often needed to leave at six o’clock for night meetings. Trent would occasionally come home on time, but many nights he would be 10, 20, or even 30 minutes late. He always had an excuse about something coming up at work or the bad traffic on the freeway. He never once said, “I’m sorry.” Trent blamed his lateness on external factors instead of taking personal responsibility.
This behavior frustrated Holly to no end. She could never count on him for any of her evening plans. She felt that she had done her fair share by being home with their baby most of the day and that Trent was not living up to his end of the bargain. One day, she let him know how furious she was. Through her tears she said, “You never even say, ‘I’m sorry,’ like some- how it isn’t even your fault. It is your fault. You’re the one who’s late all the time.” Trent took a step back and looked at Holly. At first he wanted to shout back, “Of course, I say I’m sorry,” but then he realized it wasn’t true. He was always making excuses. It took a while, but he finally apologized. By doing so, he was taking responsibility for his actions rather than blaming external factors.
Trent’s apology was valuable for many reasons. First, it showed Holly that he cared about her feelings. Second, only after admitting he was wrong could Trent start improving his behavior. And third, Trent and Holly could be a team, rather than acting like they were on opposing sides. The point is that the greater a couple’s ability and willingness to say “I’m sorry,” the more balanced, stable, and satisfying the relationship.
It can be difficult to admit that you made a mistake. But it’s a very important part of a good relationship. Take the time to answer the following questions honestly on a scale ranging from 1 (rarely) to 5 (always).
Think about your answers. If you found that you might blame someone or something else for your mistakes, consider why that might be. It will be easier for you to take re- sponsibility for your actions if you understand that it’s difficult for you.
But I’m Always Right!
Nobody is always right. Nevertheless, it’s hard for most of us to admit when we’re wrong. Sometimes we know that we did something we shouldn’t have, and we feel badly about it. So the mind plays a trick on us. It pretends that we didn’t do anything wrong. Then we don’t have to feel badly about it, and we don’t have to say, “I’m sorry,” because saying “I’m sorry” would mean admitting that we behaved badly.
This logic will make you feel distant from your spouse. There is nothing wrong with making a mistake. But there is something wrong about not admitting it.
Don’t Turn the Table Around
One of the most destructive things you can do when you make a mistake is blame the other person. It will make a bad situation worse, and it will cause the other person to become even angrier. Steve and Tricia were finding themselves arguing all the time about relatively unimportant things. For instance, when Tricia pointed out that Steve had used the last of the toilet paper, he would become defensive and say, “You always put it away where I can’t find it.” When Steve would ask why Tricia opened mail addressed to him, she would say, “You get a ridiculous amount of mail and I didn’t want you reading it all night.” Steve and Tricia blamed each other for their own mistakes.
Steve and Tricia were so unable to take responsibility for their own actions that they even tried to blame the other person for their own mistakes! If each would
just say, “I’m sorry; I’ll try not to do it again,” and re- ally mean it, it would make a big difference in their relationship; then they could move past a wrongdoing and start enjoying each other’s company again.
The strongest couples say “I’m sorry” the most! If you make a mistake, let your spouse know. Say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I’ll try not to do it again.”
Apologizing to Clear the Air
Sometimes it’s not so clear who is at fault. In many situations, both people contribute to the problem. Sometimes it’s a 50/50 split and it’s easy to see that you need to apologize to each other. But other times you might have only contributed just a bit to the problem. It’s a good idea to apologize anyway. Even if a problem is only 5 percent your fault and mostly your spouse’s, apologizing will make it easier for your spouse to apologize. Remember, the objective is to have a happy, harmonious life, not to be right all the time!
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: I always apologize and my spouse never does. What can I do?
A: Both people in a marriage should be apologizing for mistakes. If you or your spouse never or rarely apologize, it might be a red flag indicating problems in your relation- ship. First try discussing your concerns with your spouse. If this doesn’t help, you might do best seeing a couples therapist together.
José and Penny were invited to a surprise party for a good friend. They needed to be there at 7 P.M. sharp, and they had to park their car several blocks away so they wouldn’t ruin the surprise. Their friend was due to arrive at the house at 7:15. José knew that Penny had a tendency to run late, so he asked her to be ready by 6:30. The house was 15 minutes away, so they had buffer time. Penny knew that José wouldn’t stop to ask for directions and sometimes had trouble finding a new place, but he had promised to get directions ahead of time. They both had anticipated problems to ensure getting to the surprise party on time.
But that day Penny was running very late. She had a project due at work and didn’t get home until 6. She usually took an hour to get ready, but commit- ted herself to finishing in 45 minutes. She figured that if they left at 6:45, they could still be at the party on time. Penny knew José would understand.
José was frustrated, but he couldn’t do anything but wait for her. When they were halfway to the party, he realized he had left the directions at work. He had the address and knew the general area, but wasn’t sure if he needed to make a right or a left turn at a critical intersection. He was angry with Penny for being 15 minutes late. If they had left at 6:30, there would have been room for error.
Of course, José made the wrong turn and they went in the opposite direction for five minutes. When they finally found the house it was 7:10 and they knew they didn’t have time to park two blocks away and get there before their friend. José and Penny decided they should miss the surprise and arrive at the party at 7:30. They drove the car a few blocks away and argued for 20 minutes.
José and Penny were both at fault. They had come up with a buffer system that al- lowed for one thing to go wrong; unfortunately, two things had gone wrong. Penny should have made more effort to be home earlier, or at least double-checked to make sure José had the directions. And José, of course, should have had the directions with him.
They went to the party and had a miserable time. They each should have accepted their share of the responsibility and apologized for their mistakes. That apology would have put the incident behind them so the evening could have been fun. But instead, José could only see Penny’s fault in the matter, and Penny could only blame José. Result: No apology and a bad evening.
What if the situation was even more unbalanced? For instance, if Penny were only five minutes late and José had forgotten the address and needed to go back home for it, it would still have been important for Penny to apologize to José. Even though her behavior contributed minimally to the situation, she was still somewhat at fault and should apologize.
If you do not usually apologize to your spouse, try thinking about your response to #4 and determining the effect it would have had on your spouse. What kind of an ef- fect would it have on you if your spouse said “I’m sorry” more often?
Don’t Hold a Grudge
There are times when it’s not so easy to accept an apology. If your spouse hurt you or greatly inconvenienced you by his or her actions, “I’m sorry” might not seem like enough to make things better. If you can, think of something reasonable he or she could do to make it up to you. Or, if you were the one who disappointed your spouse, figure out how to make things right.
Greg had bought theater tickets for Linda’s birthday. They both were very excited. Greg had a tendency to be late, but he really planned to arrive home on time that night. Unfortunately, everything was working against him: his workload, worse traffic than usual, bad weather, and an accident on the highway. He cut everything too close, arrived home 45 minutes late, and missed the theater. Linda was really upset, espe- cially because it was her birthday.
Greg apologized and clearly felt sorry. Linda tried hard not to hold a grudge, but she was very disappointed. Greg also knew that saying “I’m sorry” wasn’t enough. So, he bought new tickets using his “personal” part of the budget. He gave up some lunches out and some trips to his favorite coffeehouse. Greg surprised Linda the next week with the tickets—and he came home on time. Linda was thrilled and felt that Greg had made up for his mistake the week before.
Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to remedy a situation. Maybe your spouse said something mean to you in the heat of an argument and your feelings were hurt. Or maybe he or she stood you up for a lunch date that you missed a meet- ing for. Once your spouse has apologized and taken responsibility for his or her ac- tions, your job is to forgive and forget. Holding a grudge won’t accomplish anything and will distance you from each other. A sincere apology is very valuable.
Anger and Forgiveness
There’s an old saying that the best part about fighting is making up. We think there is some truth in this. Think about whether you become angry very quickly or whether it takes a lot to make you angry. Now think about whether you forgive slowly or quickly.
Which of the above boxes best describes you?
➤ Quick to anger. Some people get angry more quickly than others. They are often described as “having a quick temper.” Large things as well as small things can make them angry quickly. It’s much better to be slow to anger and not let small things bother you. If you’re quick to anger, ask yourself when you be- come angry if your anger is justified. Slow yourself down by taking a deep breath or going for a walk. Remember, your goal is to be slow to anger.
➤ Slow to forgive. Some people forgive quickly, while others tend to hold grudges. When someone apologizes to you, do you forgive and forget, or do you tend to remain angry or a while? It’s very important to be able to forgive someone and move on. If you are slow to forgive, ask yourself what your anger is really buying you. Would you be willing to give some of it up for a better marriage?
➤ Slow to anger, quick to forgive. This should be your goal. Always keep in mind that you want to get angry as little as possible and forgive as often as possible. These are character traits that will both improve you as a person and strengthen your marriage. A relationship between two people who are slow to anger and quick to forgive will be an extraordinary one.
Every time you make up with your spouse, you renew your commitment to the rela- tionship. Many important things are implied: You’re saying that you accept his or her apology and forgive him or her. You’re also accepting that your spouse isn’t perfect and showing that you want to move forward.
The Least You Need to Know
- ➤ We all make mistakes. Accept blame gracefully and admit when you are wrong.
- ➤ It’s important to apologize, even when you and your spouse are both at fault.
- ➤ Don’t hold a grudge. You need to forgive your spouse and move on.
- ➤ Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to be slow to anger and quick to forgive.