I would be lying if I told you that my husband and I fight a lot because the truth is, we fight all the time. Despite me being a Taurus, my husband is the stubborn and obstinate one with the necessity to be right about everything. We’re always getting into arguments about the proper pronunciation and definition of a word. Or for the matter, if the word is a word at all.
As kismet would have it, I am quick to get angry and react and I will argue about anything. I am no holds barred when it comes to speaking my mind, and while I like to think I speak truth to power, I must admit, I can be pretty mean. Still, he is the love of my life, and as Mary Wells sings, “nothing you can say can tear me away from my guy.”
We have all heard that getting married does not fix whatever problem is plaguing a relationship and I would have to agree. While our love and trust has grown exponentially since our “I Do’s,” much of the dynamic between us has stayed the same. I am still as argumentative as the day we met, and he is still as stubborn. The only thing that has changed is our understanding of each other and our ability to apologize, but seven years later, it is still a work in progress.
Reading Dr. Harriet Lerner’s philosophy on apologizing has changed my life in the most annoying and gratifying ways. Sometimes, it feels like I am Frodo with the one ring to rule them because with knowledge comes responsibility and I can’t rely on the excuse that I am just bad at communicating. When it comes to it, there are times I want to say “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you were acting like an as*****.” I know that is neither productive nor helpful, but at the moment, it’s what feels right.
I think back to the beginning of our relationship, young and eighteen, and I didn’t know the first thing about what a good apology sounded like. I remember one big argument we had almost six years ago, over whether or not we agreed to go to the beach with friends (still, six years later, he genuinely doesn’t remember agreeing to it). I was mad because I spent time planning a double date with friends, and he was upset because he was working fifty hours a week, including weekends and just wanted to go home and relax.
I remember it being the first fight we ever had , and boy was it a big one. My husband and I laugh about it now and laugh even harder at trying to explain it, because it seems so stupid to fight over a few hours at the beach. I seriously remember thinking of whether or not I should break up with him, because of course, I thought we should have gone to the beach! How dare you change your mind and want to relax in the comfort of your own home? Especially after I planned a date with your best friends’ girlfriend, you helpless boy!
He remembers being mad at me because he paid for a nice lunch and was doing a double date during his one day off that week. His thought process went a bit like this:
Why does she need to be so uptight? I don’t remember agreeing to the beach anyway? Can’t you just give me some space to relax?
As silly as this fight sounds, I believe these experiences are universal and as they are universal, all of us can use a little help on the way.
Here are Dr. Harriet’s Lerner’s four steps to a genuine apology and how it mends bridges, even if they aren’t yet built on solid ground:
Step 1: Say you’re sorry – “I owe you an apology,”
Step 2: Say what you’re sorry for – “That wasn’t fair for me to talk to you that way and I am sorry that what I said was hurtful.”
- Tip: Avoid saying the following – “I’m sorry that what I said made you feel hurt “ and take ownership of your actions by recognizing how you impacted the other person. There is a big difference between admitting that you were the one that did the hurting, rather than making the other person feel like they are responsible for being ok or brushing of what was said as not an big deal or an overreaction.
Step 3: Resist the temptation to say – “but.” Anything after the word “but” is going to be all bad. “I’m sorry but don’t you think that you are being the unreasonable one here?”
Step 4: Take responsibility for your behaviour (don’t say “if!”). I am sorry but if you just had remembered that you agreed to the beach after lunch we wouldn’t be having this argument in the first place. This ties back into Step 2!
Talking to my single friends who are dating or in new relationships, I like to tell this story because it encapsulates how arguments are all about misunderstandings. As funny as it is to us now, we still have arguments like this, except I don’t think about ending our marriage over it. I know that he doesn’t like a sudden change in plans and he knows that I am not a fan of inflexibility and rigidness. We are continually working at finding a middle ground where we can both be happy.
Here is how our conversation should have gone about the beach debacle but didn’t.
Me: “I owe you an apology; I am sorry for getting mad that you didn’t want to go to the beach after lunch, I know you are working long hours, and I had a fantastic time getting the chance to meet your best friend and his girlfriend for the first time. The beach can wait for another day, and it wasn’t fair that I got mad at you after a nice afternoon together.”
Here is how the conversation actually went.
Me: “I am sorry that you don’t want to go to the beach, but you promised. I don’t care if you don’t remember saying yes, but I have been planning this since last week, so we need to go.”
See the difference? It’s pretty embarrassing to admit out loud, no less acknowledge it on the internet. I won’t pretend that I am perfect at apologizing even after learning what a good apology looks like. I know he loves me, and I love him, but that can be hard to remember in the heat of the moment, even now all those years later.
It is even harder to remember in a new relationship, where exit signs appear every few miles, and every small mistake feels like a deal-breaker. It is easy to see faults in people, but it is much harder to see the flaws in ourselves, but like the wise Frodo says, “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.”
It’s (sometimes) ok to stay mad.
I want to think that I am someone who doesn’t hold a grudge, but my husband would say otherwise. I wouldn’t say he is wrong, but I also wouldn’t say he is right. Confused? Me too. I am often conflicted on this point. While I don’t think it productive to stay angry, I think it is as equally unproductive to give a disingenuous apology and expect forgiveness just because you said you were sorry.
My Lola and Lolo have been married for almost sixty-five years, and when I asked them what their time-honoured marriage advice was, my Lola said to me, “Don’t try to talk things out when you are mad, go and calm down first.” As simple as it sounds, I haven’t understood the meaning of this until very recently. Sometimes saying sorry in the moment isn’t enough and true reconciliation often comes after the apology. Real vulnerability is being able to say after the fact, “what you did wasn’t nice, and I need more than just hearing that you are sorry. Or it means admitting what I did was hurtful. While that vulnerability is scary, the reward of letting go of your ego is love and intimacy, and that is the best gift of all.
Pick up the phone, call, FaceTime but never text. Say you’re sorry, avoid saying “but”. It is easy to mess up but hard to say sorry. People are imperfect, stubborn, messy and insecure, an apology is the opposite. It is vulnerable, honest, open, conscientious and the only way to healthy relationships and happy hearts.
*This article was fact-checked and approved by Jasmin’s husband.
For more information, I highly recommend checking out these sources!
For Podcast Addicts
The Confessional with Nadia Bolz-Weber
For Book Addicts
Why Won’t You Apologize – Harriet Lerner Ph.D.
For Love Story Readers
Tiny Love Stories (NYT – Modern Love): Will You Please Forgive Me
For when you need to get your head into a good space
For when you need to let those emotions out
Cover Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash