The High Road: A Guide For The Reluctant Apologizer

The High Road: A Guide For The Reluctant Apologizer

So you’ve had some time to think about it . . . to release at least some of that anger and reevaluate whatever it was that sparked your big fight. You still know she was in the wrong, but you can see where you were, too. Like it or not, you know it’s time to apologize.

Apologies are important. Sure, you may prefer to just agree to forget it and move on, but a sincere apology can do wonders for a developing relationship. When you apologize, you give your partner a clearer idea of your perspective, of how you understand her anger, and of your intentions to keep in better harmony with him in the future. You also demonstrate that you’re tough enough to acknowledge your own wrongs . . . in other words, that you’re worth hanging on to through the worst of fights.

The only question now is: how do you approach this awkward (and pride-squashing) exchange? Here are a few tips to get you on the right path.

Know what you want to apologize for specifically.

“I’m sorry I made you angry” is technically an apology, yes, but you get more out of this moment of humility if you get more specific. First of all, by telling her what exactly you think you did wrong, you make an important statement about what your greatest concerns about the argument are. You’re also demonstrating that this is a sincere apology, and you give yourself an opportunity to put your foot down if you don’t feel you should have to apologize for everything she’s mad about. (e.g. “I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to talk over our plans with you,” rather than “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to poker night.”)

Get some perspective on apologies.

It takes a while for the flame to fizzle after a really big argument. Even though you know it’s time to move forward, you may resist the idea of an apology, out of fear that it’ll look like you’re giving up. Remember, this person is your partner, not your opponent. Although you may want to win this one, you know as well as I do that the most important issue is that the relationship wins. To do that, you have to own up to your own faults. You won’t look like the loser for doing that. Few things in life are as difficult as admitting your faults. Your partner will recognize your apology as a demonstration of strength . . . and he’ll admire you for it.

Make eye contact. Be real.

Owning your mistake isn’t something you do just through the words you say. When you make your apology, make eye contact with your significant other. Avoid the urge to over-dramatize it or play it off as nothing. If you’re not a seasoned apologizer, this may take work. You’ll get there.

No excuses.

When we’re still feeling the fire of the fight, we tend to run our apologies in with accusations or excuses, like “I’m sorry I insulted your friend, but I didn’t know she was so sensitive,” or “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have left you at the party if it didn’t look like you were having such a great time flirting with everyone.” In these examples, the apology is lost in a wave of accusations that are likely to inspire a new argument. Let your apology stand alone, make sure it’s been heard, then—if you feel you still need to speak in your own defense—talk about your side of the issue as a matter entirely separate from the apology. Example: “I’m sorry I left you at the party. I did it out of anger, and I should have just told you I was mad so we could’ve worked it out.” Pause for response, then ask him if he understands where you’re coming from. You’re likelier to get his empathy if he sees that he’s genuinely gotten yours.

Look Forward.

Give yourselves a little hope for the future by reflecting on what you could do differently next time, whether it be as general as, “I’ll try to be more communicative” or as specific as, “I’ll respect your sensitivity to the word ‘broad.’” Arguments aren’t just exhausting exercises in mutual aggravation. They’re also opportunities to grow as a couple.

Sometimes the anger still fizzles beyond the point of apology. That’s okay. The important thing is that you’ve made a decision to forge on together, working through whatever obstacles come your way. So even if the sight of her face is still a little unbearable today, remember that he’s the one you chose . . . and she’s worth it.

Apologies are hard to give, which means you may not always get them. But keep taking the high road—keep recognizing your faults and conjuring the courage to state them out loud. Even if your partner isn’t there yet, you’ll be paving the way for smoother make-up conversations down the road, and setting an example that he’s sure to follow in time.

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