Inevitably, we will be hurt, and we will hurt our partner at times. No matter what, couples hurt each other. How a couple handles (hurts and the apologies that result) affects the health of the relationship.
I often hear from couples: “I know I hurt him/her, but it’s in the past. There is nothing I can do about it now. She/he just won’t get over it.” Yes, the hurt happened in the past, but the real problem is that it still hurts in the present moment. So how can we help our partner get over the past event that keeps coming back?
For the partner that did the hurting, learning to apologize can be difficult. Generally when I see one partner that is having trouble letting go of the past, I see token apologies that just don’t feel validating to the hurt partner. Validation is a form of empathy meant to let the other person know that their feelings are heard and understood.
Here are some sample token apologies. See if you can hear yourself in some of these. I know I have used them myself.
- The quickie apology that tries to distract. For example, “Yes…well, sorry. Ummm, where do you want to go to dinner?”
- A minimizing apology to deflect the hurt and shift blame. For example, “Well yeah… yes I did that, but only because of….”
- The forced apology. For example, “I guess you want me to say I am sorry…”
- The turnaround apology, “No matter what I do, nothing works, so I will just apologize.”
It is hard to admit that we did something that hurt the most important person in our lives. For me, a great moment in therapy comes when the partner who did the hurting can acknowledge what has gotten in the way of a full and complete apology. When he or she starts to own why the apology is so elusive, this is the start of healing for the relationship.
Owning Your Piece
Owning what has gotten in the way of a full and complete apology sounds something like one of these statements:
- “I don’t know how to fix it, so I try to convince you that it’s not a big deal.”
- “I feel so bad about it, that I just want to get away so I don’t have to think about it anymore.”
- “I am afraid that my apology won’t be enough to make you feel better.”
- “I am so _____ (ashamed, afraid, guilty, confused, or defensive) that I don’t even see what’s happening with you.”
- “I didn’t even know you are hurt, because I got too _________ (afraid, angry, or numb).”
Do you see yourself in some of these statements? A true, complete apology is hard to do because we can so caught up in ourselves sometimes that we don’t see the other’s pain.
The hurting partner is looking for some validation of being hurt. They want to know you recognize they feel hurt (see a forthcoming blog for what the person who was hurt can do and say in this situation).. Can you pinpoint, with honesty, how you tried to deal with the fact that you hurt your loved one? A good statement of validation might be one of these:
- “I pulled away. I let you down.”
- “I didn’t see your pain and how much you needed me. I was too ___ (afraid, angry, preoccupied, lost).”
- I didn’t know what to do. I got caught up in feeling____ (bad, stupid, unaware) and started worrying about doing things wrong.”
- “I got ____ (angry, frustrated, scared), and I wasn’t there for you and fought with you, even attacked you .”
After you own what got in your way, you are ready to make a full apology.
A full, sincere apology has these elements which indicate that you are owning your piece of hurting you loved one:
- I feel _________ (sad, sorry, ashamed) for doing that to you and treating you that way.
- I care about your pain.
- Your hurt is warranted.
- I did hurt you by ________ (doing the action).
- I want you to feel better and us to heal.
For example, let’s say you hurt your loved one by forgetting an important event, because you were distracted by work. Your honey feels forgotten and unimportant. You have a hard time believing this is a big deal. See if you can step outside yourself for a moment to see how your partner sees what happened and give a full apology.
Give it a try and write your practice apology below or let me know what is in the way of your full apology.