Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Sofia was having an especially bad day yesterday. She was experiencing some symptoms of her chronic condition. As a result, her emotions were on edge.
Her husband, Jack, said something that evening that just hit her the wrong way. He was talking to her about the upcoming weekend and the day with his parents they had been planning. Sofia had offered to make lunch to take to his parents.
“I’m assuming you are not going to be up for making anything to bring,” he said. “No problem. We can pick up some take-out on the way there.”
Sofia felt that Jack was patronizing here, assuming she was going to be feeling poorly all week and that she would be unable to meet her commitment to make lunch. At that moment, it seemed to her like Jack didn’t have much confidence in her ability to get back on track by the weekend.
And so she told him as much. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jack,” she replied. “I guess you think I’ll be having my lunch in intensive care.”
She could tell Jack was hurt by her comment. They didn’t talk much more last night, nor this morning.
Analyzing what happened
On one hand, Sofia realized she had overreacted to his comment. And that he hadn’t meant to make her feel like an invalid. She knew he was trying not to put pressure on her and was offering her an out. On the other hand, this was not the first time she had a bad day, and she had felt much better within a couple of days. Had he completely forgotten that?
“Either way,” Sofia said to herself, “I blew up at him. That in itself is grounds for an apology.” But still, his comment lingered in her mind. So she couldn’t quite take the next step.
It’s hard to take that first step. But consider the consequences and the benefits.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to apologize? Have you and your partner had situations come up in your relationship when you know an apology is in order, but you can’t quite let go of what caused you to get angry? And so your apology isn’t forthcoming?
Here’s a perspective on apologizing:
When we feel hurt, we hurt back. It’s only human. It’s not necessarily about revenge. But when you feel bad, chances are you want the other person to know what it’s like to feel bad. Don’t criticize yourself for that urge to hurt back when you’ve been hurt. Sure, it’s not necessarily the best way to react, and it’s not necessarily the way you plan to react. But remember that it’s human to at least consider hurting back.
Your pride is at stake. It doesn’t take much to feel like we’ve suffered a wound that injures our pride. And we are especially vulnerable where our partner is concerned. So much so that we may perceive an offhand remark as a sign of disrespect or mean spiritedness, which leaves us feeling like our pride has been injured. And makes us say things like, “Don’t you know how that hurts? Is this the way I should be treated? Don’t you have any respect for me? After all I do for you?” Keep in mind that when your pride is at stake, you may be more likely both to over-interpret the words or actions of your partner and to react accordingly. Also, if you are living with a chronic condition like Sofia, you may be just a little more sensitive where your pride is concerned. Pride is the biggest barrier to making an apology.
The issue may be bigger than this situation. When a button has been pushed, that button may be connected to a much larger issue that has until this moment been unacknowledged. The danger is that you are reacting to that much bigger issue and not in the moment—and, as a result, your reactions are way out of proportion. For example, Sofia may have been feeling like Jack constantly underestimates what she is able to do, and she feels that he is limiting her. Again, a pride issue. Instead of talking that out with him, Sofia has held those feelings inside. But they sure got released!
It’s hard to admit you were wrong. It’s human nature to want to be right, and to feel justified in refusing to make an apology. The problem is that we so want to be right that we are all too often willing to place our relationship at risk. That may be what was holding Sofia back from apologizing. You can’t truly apologize to someone without also admitting that you were wrong, or at least that you weren’t right.
But consider the consequences. Disagreements and miscommunications can drive a wedge in your relationship with your partner. Not being willing to apologize can drive that wedge even deeper. Surely this isn’t worth risking your relationship over. The longer you wait to apologize, the greater the chances that hurt feelings on both sides will continue to fester. And as these feelings fester, it becomes that much more challenging to get your relationship back on track. This is a risk you don’t want to take.
And consider the benefits. Think about how much better your life is when you and your partner are in harmony. This enhances your emotional wellness which, in turn, has a positive impact on your physical wellness and your overall quality of life. Isn’t it worth apologizing when you consider how much more you enjoy life when you and your partner are talking, laughing together, planning for your future? That’s what’s important.
Decide to take the first step. Don’t wait for your partner to come to his or her senses. Be willing to blink first. It’s as simple as saying “I’m sorry,” followed by what you’re sorry for. You may get an apology in return, or you may not. Either way, you will know that you did what you felt you needed to do to try to mend any broken fences. Need to be right? This is the right thing to do. Who knows, your partner might then be more willing to apologize when it’s his or her turn.
Talk it out. An apology can open the door to a productive conversation about how to prevent the situation that caused the conflict from happening again. Use this as an opportunity to make things better!
You and your partner. It’s not easy to apologize. But whenever you refuse to take that step, your communication with your partner may be in a deep freeze. So swallow your pride. Take a deep breath. And say “I’m sorry.” Watch the ice melt before your eyes.
Add a comment below and tell our community about a time when an apology helped you and your partner.