Who Apologizes First?

communication marriage personal growth professional development relationships Oct 26, 2022
Who Apologizes First

“He started it!” “No, she did!” That’s how a lot of childhood arguments sound, and the common mistake that a lot of parents make is to dig in and try to be the judge so they know who to punish and who to comfort. The trouble is, it doesn’t work well because the issue is rarely black and white, and the parties involved aren’t exactly objective. 

So, what happens when you’re not a child anymore and someone hurts your feelings, says mean things or the inevitable argument breaks out from time to time? We often revert to the conflict management method we learned in childhood – identify the good guy and the bad guy and make sure they get what’s coming to them.

No matter who started it, you can finish it –with an apology. I understand there are exceptional situations where one person truly violates another, but most of our day-to-day conflicts are made up of small offenses on both sides.

A genuine, effective apology involves taking responsibility for your part in the argument, regardless of what the other person said or did. Even if they started it with a rude comment, insult, inconsiderate behavior, or whatever, if you escalated it by speaking harshly or slamming a door in return, you have a legitimate reason to apologize. “I’m sorry I reacted the way I did. My sarcastic comment only made the situation worse, and I apologize. Will you forgive me?” Asking the other party to forgive you may produce a positive effect of softening their attitude as well. People often respond by owning up to their contribution and will often apologize in return, which opens the door to more peaceful discussion or problem-solving.

In order to be most effective, the apology should include a sincere affirmation of the value of the relationship. “I care about you and don’t want to hurt our relationship by carrying a grudge.” In a marriage, it can be helpful to think about – and talk about – what you want your feelings to be. Today, you might be feeling like your spouse is completely unreasonable and unlovable, but if you think back on how it feels to be in love and have fun with your spouse, it’s easier to approach them with an opportunity for reconciliation.

Some conflicts are important and need to be resolved. It’s critical that you speak to one another in respectful, solution-focused terms, avoiding name-calling and generalizations (e.g., you always or you never). Remember, the goal is resolving the conflict, not winning. Other conflicts are just manifestations of being tired, hungry, fearful, sad, or out of control. Sometimes the goal isn’t solving a problem, it’s just stopping the destructive communication. An effective apology can be as simple as, “I am so sorry I snapped at you. I am feeling grouchy, and I took it out on you. Can we start over?” 

An effective apology doesn’t make you inferior to the person you are in a conflict with – it doesn’t even mean they were all right and you were all wrong. It just means you are confident enough to acknowledge your part and ready to put it behind you for the sake of the relationship. In the end, that’s the most important part.

So, who apologizes first? Whoever is first to realize that the relationship is more important than winning the argument. I hope that’s you!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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