I’m going to give you some information that could save your relationship. Making amends and knowing how to apologize in a good way is essential to happiness, it’s essential for not having baggage in your relationship, for healing things up so they don’t have to carry weight for either one of you in the future, and it just brings a lot more happiness in our lives.
There is a couple of things that people do that does not work very well. One of them is justifiable behavior which is basically: “I’m not going to apologize because you did something to me.” In other words: “I’m justified in my poor behavior because you hurt me first,” something like that. That’s a trap because we all are responsible for our behavior. We have the right to take care of ourselves in any given situation. Yes, we do get hurt sometimes and we have to deal with that, but we ourselves cannot retaliate or it never ends. We step on each other’s toes and everyone retaliates, and it gets worse.
Another thing is that sometimes people say: “Sorry” just to appease their partner. “I know you’re hurt and upset by what I’ve done.” I have no idea whether it’s wrong or right, or I may not even think it was wrong of me, but I’m going to say “sorry” anyways. That doesn’t work for a lot of reasons. First of all, you’re going to keep doing that behavior most likely and it’s not going to stop, so “sorry” is not going to work. Second of all, you don’t actually mean it. People are very smart and intuitive, and they can tell you don’t mean it; it’s just not very authentic.
Sometimes we want to blame each other for our feelings and it’s understandable, we hurt each other for sure, but the only thing that we can do in life is take responsibility for our own behavior. We hope our partners will do the same, but let it start with you. The first thing you need to do is to examine every incident. You have a fight, for instance, examine your part in it. I know it’s easy to examine the other person and how they hurt you – that’s usually the first thing we think about. I don’t want you to think about whether the chicken or the egg or who was first. What did you do that was disrespectful? What did you say that was meant to be hurtful? Was it reactive? If it was reactive, it probably wasn’t very kind.
The best thing to do after that examination is to come back and take responsibility for what you did. A lot of people have a lot of fear with this because they feel if they take responsibility for their part, they’re taking responsibility for everything, and that is not true. If you have a difficult time with this, you could even say something like: “Listen, there’s two people in our relationship and I’m going to speak for myself. I’m not taking responsibility for our whole fight, but there’s some things that I did, some behaviors that I did that were not cool and were not respectful, and it’s not the way that I want to be towards you.” Then you just tell the person what you did, what your behavior was, and what you’d like to do differently.
It’s way different than “sorry”. Making an amends is acknowledging what you did because you’ve examined it, it’s telling the person what you don’t like about what you did, and most importantly, tell them what you want to do differently next time. You don’t even have to say “sorry”, and the way that I’m telling you to do it is far more powerful than any “sorry”.
A couple things you have to watch out for is you have to watch out for: “I’m making amends, I’m apologizing for this, but you…” blah, blah, blah. Whenever you put a “but” after an apology and you speak about what somebody else did to you, it just takes away all of the beautiful medicine of making an amends. My suggestion to you is: if you’re going to make amends, don’t mention what the other person did to you. Maybe later, a couple of hours, a day later, come back and tell the other person how they hurt you, but don’t do it at the same time because it just takes away the amends and the power of it.
Then the last thing, of course, which I’ve mentioned before is: shy away from saying “sorry.” It loses its importance. Most of us don’t care whether you’re sorry. What we want to know is what you’re going to do about it. If you keep treating me disrespectfully, “sorry” is going to lose its meaning. Your effortfulness and your self-examination, and in your practice and mindfulness of changing your behavior is really at the heart of what matters to anybody.
You can save your relationship by examining yourself, cleaning your side of the street in any argument or fight that you have. I think you’ll be shocked, you’ll find – not always, but often – your partner will want to make amends too. It’s pretty neat. Not only that, but it’s such a lighthearted way to live your relationship; you don’t have to carry the baggage of resentment at a level that you would have otherwise, and both of you can move through life, through difficulties, and even fighting – which is healthy and normal in a relationship – but get through it in a very healthy way.
by Sevin Philips, MFT