During the very first year of our marriage, we were out with other family members, and my husband made a joke that everyone laughed at but me.

 When we were finally home I told him I wasn’t happy with the joke he made because I  felt it put me in a bad light, he was shocked at first and then said how? Before I could finish explaining what I didn’t like about the joke, he cut in and said you know what am sorry I will never crack a joke again.

That just took the fight to another level; we were fighting for the next two hours or more. Francis (my husband) reminded me a couple of times during the argument that he had apologised and didn’t understand why we were still talking about it.

My children and I have similar dialogues;

Child; mom I hit my foot

Me; sorry

Child; mom I said I hurt my foot

Me; sorry

A few minutes later I notice my daughter sobbing

Me; why are you crying?

Child; I said I hit my foot, but you didn’t answer me

At this point, the discussion can go in two ways

Sometimes, saying sorry is not good enough for several reasons;

1) The person apologising has not allowed the offended partner to express their grievance fully. The angry partner, as a result, does not feel heard or understood, and the apology will not seem genuine. Asking questions to understand further shows that you are genuinely interested in your partner.

2) The test of how sorry we are is in the change of character that follows an apology. If there is no change, it may be difficult for the plea to be received next time.

3) When giving an apology with a defence (an explanation of why things happened that way, a counter-accusation or a request for change from the other partner), it weakens the apology’s strength.

Anytime you notice yourself saying; ‘I am sorry but…’ or ‘I shouldn’t have said so but…’ the apology may not be heard because the use of the word ‘but’ negates or cancels everything said earlier. The lines following the ‘but’ are the only thing the listener will be hearing.

My mentor Mr Usar, says it this way; ‘say the ‘but’ and everything after it, six months later’. Defensiveness robs us of reconnecting with our partner after an offence.

The best way to avoid defensiveness is to take responsibility for your part in the fight. Taking responsibility for even a little aspect of the disagreement goes a long way in curling down anger and making the other partner opened to resolution.

Most often, we will find that the other person will become more willing to accept their part when we take responsibility for ours.

4) Some people apologise by accepting the whole blame, whether or not it was theirs; this comes across as condescending and offensive and at best insincere.

 You don’t have to apologise for something of which you don’t agree.

  • It is wise to say what you are apologising for, your contribution to the conflict.

For example; I am sorry that I snapped at you earlier, it was rude. I genuinely regret my actions.

It leaves out what the person did that made you angry in the first place.

With my children, I could respond;

Me; I answered you, I said sorry (defensive).

Child; no, you didn’t, you were not even looking at me.

 Second way

Me; I am sorry, let me see the foot you hit, did you get injured? Does it still hurt? Sorry.

At this point, it doesn’t matter the state of the foot, the cry stops, and she feels connected to me again.

Weeks after that fight with my husband, he came to understand why his sorry made me angrier;

When he said ‘sorry, I will never crack a joke again’.

 I heard; ‘keep quite am not interested in what you have to say’.

The apology was too fast; he hadn’t understood what the problem was, then his comment about never making a joke again was defensive and made the whole apology not feel genuine to me.

Nancy Oblete

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