When you should offer an apology in your relationship

Squabbles in your relationship are gonna happen. Be sure to talk with — not at — your partner, and consider offering up an "I'm sorry."

Rumors are swirling that Rihanna and Chris Brown might reunite. She has said publicly that being single is overrated, but there has to be more to it than that. I would assume that a heartfelt apology from Brown about his reported physical abuse that led to their break-up years ago played a big part. So how much power can an apology have? Of course, physical abuse is the extreme, and there is no question that an apology was vital in that case, but what about smaller transgressions? When is saying you’re sorry a good idea?

There are many things that can make one partner or the other angry and upset: he forgot to call; she was late and left him waiting on the street corner; he promised to do an errand but got caught up at work. When couples sit down to talk about these issues, so often they simply talk at each other. “How could you forget to mail my invitations?” one will ask. “How can you not understand that my boss needed me and then the post office was closed?” the other will counter. In these situations, there is no attempt to consider the other person’s feelings or show any empathy. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to consider offering an apology.

People think of an apology as an assertion of wrong-doing. Think of it instead as a healing balm to soothe your partner’s upset feelings. You had every intention of mailing those invitations. You may feel that the outcome was out of your control. Lots of times we do or don’t do things that hurt our partner’s feelings because we believe that we had no other option at the time, and it was in no way intentional. But you can still be sorry that your partner’s feelings were ruffled. Once the apology is offered and the wronged party feels heard and understood, you can then, hopefully without anger, get your communication back on track and discuss what happened so that you might prevent it from happening again.

In my practice I have seen an apology clear the air instantly. It is a declaration of caring about your partner’s feelings. It can be the magic key that opens the door to reconnecting.


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