We all make mistakes in close, personal or career relationships. These mistakes can hurt others deeply and destroy in an instant the trust we have so carefully developed over a long time.
We all come into relationships wounded and vulnerable. Sometimes we do things that are insensitive out of our own unhealed pain or be unaware of how delicate our partners are around certain wounds that they are carrying.
We are not 100% fully conscious of others so it is inevitable that others can be hurt by our actions. It is part of being human but it must not be an excuse.
What we do in this situation can bring trust and even greater closeness back. On the other hand to ignore our transgression can ruin close relationships and friendships.
Three Powerful Words
One of the greatest things we can do is utter three crucial words:
“I am sorry”.
Saying sorry can be difficult as we fear we may be seen as weak, defective or be rejected or we will have to face the fire of the hurt of our loved one. But on the other hand being accountable can show our partner that we care enough about our relationship to go into this state of vulnerability and face that fire.
How to say “I am sorry”
Here’s some does and don’t’s about saying sorry:
- Get clear in private away from your loved one, what you did, did not do, said or failed to say. Put your self in their shoes and sense how she, he was impacted. If you feel badly then feel badly. This is important to establish empathy.
- Find the right time. Blurting out the apology when the person is in the midst of a phone call is not the best time for the person to hear our apology.
- Say the words. Actually say the words “I am sorry”. Muster up the courage and be willing to face the music. You may feel powerful emotions of fear but the words in themselves carry powerful energy of healing. Say exactly what you did or failed to do that was hurtful.
- Acknowledge the impact your error had on your partner. How did they feel? What behaviour did they exhibit after? Did they shut down? Did they feel rejected, demeaned, abandoned, etc.
- Avoid being defensive. Don’t get into a long explanation or story of why you made the error or why you didn’t mean to hurt her or him or how philosophically you are just human and you made an innocent error. This may be true but it is not the time to relate this. Basically the person will hear “I am sorry but these other circumstances are responsible, not me.”
- Avoid blaming them even in subtle ways. Talk only about the error you made. Avoid even subtle game playing like “I am sorry you got hurt” or "I am sorry you felt this way”. This is just crazy making. It sounds like you are to blame but you are actually blaming them.
- Be heartfelt. Reveal your feelings. Show your emotions. Let the person know without too much exaggeration how badly you feel about your transgression. Don’t over dramatize this. This shows them how much you care about your relationship. Be compassionate.
- Tell the person what you became conscious of. What have you learned about yourself, about them and what you have learned you need to change about yourself.
- Ask the person to share their experience of their hurt. Listen, understand and do not interrupt until they are finished. Face the music. You may get triggered but put your attention on them not yourself. Avoid once again being defensive.
- Ask for forgiveness
Apology is a lovely perfume. It can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift.
I have experienced firsthand the power of a genuine apology, how it can very quickly resolve a misunderstanding or heal a hurt and bring trust back into a relationship. Often the issue quickly dissolves and is no longer traumatic.
I have also seen how defensiveness and lack of accountability creates a wound that over time festers, toxifies and gradually destroys the deep love that individuals have for each other.
These three words “I am sorry” are as powerful as three other words “I love you”.
Essentially they are saying, I love you enough to admit when I am wrong so that I can learn from my mistakes to be a better partner for you.
I am committed to you.
Be you to fullness