My husband and I had just exhausted an unpleasant argument several years ago when he said something that became a ‘click-moment’ for future apologies. I have taught it to others-clients and friends.
The argument was unbalanced. Neither of us were innocent but I knew and he knew that this time I was the over reactor and the unfair wordsmith-er. (He just now read this part, and says that he has no idea of what I am talking about but is getting mad on principle. He also guessed that the phrase that I am soon to reveal is not, “love is never having to say you are sorry”- made famous by 70’s movie and book, “Love Story”).
Aside: I’m amazed this phrase actually stuck in our collective consciousness even though none of us have ever believed it. In fact, I got married about the time that movie was still popular and even I, a love-struck young woman, knew that “love is never having to say you are sorry,” was a bunch of hooey. In fact, once again, before I leave this teaser, I actually included in my wedding vows something about “needing to forgive and ask for forgiveness” (Those were the days when we thought we were too cool and clever to use the traditional vows and now we are too embarrassed to reread what we actually said to each other.)
Back to the argument that taught me what more was needed to be said to mend a broken-hearted fence.
After I came to my humble senses, I confessed to my husband that I knew I was the major provocateur and was sorry. I even went as far as to say, “Will you forgive me for saying what I said?” He said, “Yes,” and I extended the apology with more words of contrition. It took me a few minutes, however, to realize that the fence was not mended and it was not because he was still angry with me. He was still smarting and feeling the burden of the offense. Finally, he took a leap of trust and vulnerability and asked me the question that showed me the true nature of the hurt I caused.
“I sense you are sorry but I need to know whether you actually believe what you said about me during the argument.”
My surprised reaction to this question led into a new insight of what it takes sometimes for relationship reparation and healing. My response was surprisingly a new one for me and possibly a God-inspired one as I witnessed the relief that my sincere words brought to my husband.
“No, I do not believe what I said about you. I said it because I was angry, hurt and verbally undisciplined. You did not deserve those comments because they are not what I fundamentally believe about you and again I am sorry to have put you through that.”
So, are you wondering what I said that caused the hurt? I am not really sure as it happened awhile I go but I can guess from knowing how thoughtless arguments go among folks that it was probably in the vein of some kind of “you are” character slam like, “You are selfish, or you are thoughtless, or you have to always win or be right, or you are immature, or you are always judgmental or you always only care about yourself or any number of careless, lousy communication statements thrown around when disagreements arise among spouses, friends, children, parents, and, more rarely because we don’t take them quite for granted, co-workers and employees.
We have all heard that when we argue we must stay away from the “You are” statements or the “you are always or never” statements and stick with the “I am feeling this or that when you do or say this or that” statements. So, I am not going to bore you with what you already know about good communication practices but maybe don’t always practice! But I do want to explain why the apology I gave my husband may be necessary for reconciliation.
When we launch a character slam statement something deep and rarely examined is triggered in the offended party and this is so, even if the offended one knows that the statements are over the top and spoken in anger and poor judgment. In every criticism, regardless of its unreasonableness, there is a part of us that thinks there is truth to it. And you know why? Because there is, even if that truth is only true 1 percent of the time. None of us are always virtuous all of the time giving unconditional positive regard and love to those we care about. So, even the one percent truth of the “you are” statement stings and dregs up self-doubt and self-condemnation. The offended one has two hurtles to navigate: one: the unfairness and hurtfulness of the statement, and two: the anger and hurt resulting from a wounded self-worth. An apology that restores respect (“I am sorry, forgive me”) and healing (“you did not deserve that because it is not the big truth about you”) is restorative and therapeutic.
Theological understanding for the offender:
“Don’t judge lest you be judged with the same measure of behavioral standard that you are judging the other “- roughly paraphrased, “For every finger you are pointing at someone there are 3 fingers and a thumb pointing back at you.”(Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7:1-5)
“No one but God is perfect in love and righteous judgment.” Show respectful humility about who you are and who God is. Muster up empathy and humility to admit that someone did not deserve your harsh judgment. (1 John 1:5-8)
Psychological understanding for the offended – two points and commentary:
When the shame of being exposed by hurtful comments from a loved one arises, wait for the dust to settle and ask for clarification. (“Is this really what you believe about me?”)
Claw yourself out of self-denial and self-condemnation and humbly realize with gratefulness that true self worth is found in being a forgiven child of God through the sacrifice of Christ not in some attempt to be always well thought of in some feature of appearance, performance or status
Jesus is the perfect one; not me, not you, not anyone. And after countless generations He is still being loved by many. He, unlike us, is undaunted by criticism, accusation or even flattery. He is the perfect self-possessed being and therefore, unlike us, has the only love that “never has to say I’m sorry.”