Apology “Fails”.

Hey I’m sorry, but October is “Apology Month.”

Here’s a story problem for you (with no numbers, I hasten to add). It’s a not too atypical sort of mis-communication / mis-understanding / poor choice made by couples early on in their relationship. This is a composite example from some of the situations I’ve helped folks navigate.

I’ll describe the situation. You get to have sympathy for one or other (both or neither) of the protagonists as they stumble through a Christmas party fiasco.

After the damage has been done, I describe 15 hypothetical apologies they might use on one another. My invitation to you is to try these on. How do they feel if you are the one delivering the apology? How do they feel if you are the one receiving the apology. Is there one that would work for you? Or not?

Amos and Zoe are in their mid twenties. They’ve been dating for about a year and by choice each maintains a separate apartment. Over the past 3 months, Zoe has made a practice of staying with Amos after work on Friday through Sunday night so their social and recreational lives can be shared more easily.

Amos landed a decent job with a large firm in town and is finishing up his MBA on nights and weekends. He’s about three years behind the typical curve here since he took a gap year and volunteered in Costa Rica for two years with the Peace Corps. Zoe was a straight A student her whole life and saw no merit in delaying entry into the work force. She cruised through one of the nation’s best MBA programs and is now a rising star in the most prestigious firm in town. She is highly ambitious.

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Zoe has asked Amos to come to her office party. He has mixed feelings. Zoe’s at a huge firm stuffed with type A personalities all of whom – Amos suspects – will look down on his firm, his choices and his salary (not they he’s going to broadcast that but he will be showing up in a Datsun not an Audi ). On top of that, Zoe is tall, wicked smart, drop-dead gorgeous, a flirtatious dancer and Amos can imagine how the wolves will be circling all night. The alcohol and music won’t help and then – wasn’t her old college boyfriend recently hired? Plus, Amos has a game at 9:00am Saturday (he plays for a local soccer league and their main rivals are up tomorrow) so he has to watch his alcohol and hopefully get to bed soon after midnight.

On the other hand, he wants her to come to his office party, and better to be there fending off the opposition than sitting home worrying.

Zoe asked Amos to the office bash because she’s been telling everyone about her “friend” (it’s a fine line at work; she wants the safety of a relationship with the just-off-limits sense of promise for her male colleagues) so she better show up with him. But, it’s not the best plan since she knows he feels insecure about his education and work place (a trait she dislikes) and he’ll want to not drink much and go home early for the game.

They take separate cars and meet in the lobby. Things head south pretty quickly they both reported. A posse of Zoe’s immediate colleagues crowd the elevator with them to the party floor and immediately drop into “shop talk” so Amos is out on a limb and Zoe makes no attempt to either introduce him nor catch him up on the backstory. He literally trails behind the group as they leave the elevator and immediately looses her to a throng of mega decibel conversation and music.

Zoe’s on her game, loving the energy, the vibe, and excitement and the anticipation of dancing. Oh – where’s Amos?

Amos figures he’ll get their drinks and uses this offering to re-enter the group. At this point she introduces him and he’s stunned to hear she says “Oh hey, I’d like to you meet my friend, Amos. Amos this is the start-up team I was telling you about…”

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Friend-zoned in the first half hour? Not good. Amos racks his brains to see if he remembers any sort of opening gambit tid-bit about this team he’s apparently heard all about but draws a blank. But hey, all guys… he throws out a “how about the game last night?”

No takers. They seem to turn as one and drift off toward someone else they obviously find more interesting. Zoe pauses . . . then spots her girl friend Lucy. She grabs Amos and brings him to meet her. Lucy’s husband is away and Zoe seems keen for Amos to be attentive to Lucy while she… what did she say? But she’s gone – slipping into the throng.

From here out Zoe and Amos attend different events (experientally) and I’ll spare you the details. Amos leaves at 11:00pm after he finds Zoe on the dance floor to let her know. She agrees that’s a great idea and she’ll see him later and no, she won’t wake him on account of the game and his need for sleep.

By the time they make it to me about a month later their stories are hardened into battle lines. Here is how things played out.

Zoe did meet up with her old college flame. While she knew she did not want to hit the repeat button (he was way too self-absorbed for her long term, in fact “Narcissistic” came to mind as she described him) he was still funny, fascinating, wealthy and great dancer. By 3:00am the following morning she decided to accept his offer for her to sleep at his place rather than disturb Amos.

Amos left feeling angry and vulnerable. He berated himself for not putting on more of an alpha-male show and he wished, not for the first time, that he could Tango. He slept soundly though and it wasn’t until his alarm went on Saturday morning at 7:45 that he noticed Zoe had never come over. His own inner alarms went off but he showed up for his game (they lost) and then found Zoe sleeping off a bit of a hangover on his couch when he got home. In an instant all his frustration, anger, hurt, jealousy, doubt and insecurity erupted and for the first time in their relationship Amos went off on Zoe, calling her names, questioning her faithfulness, insulting her firm, friends, choices and attitude.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.39.43 PMZoe – who was feeling a bit guilty – kept calmer, but neither partner felt good about the fight that followed.

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OK – so right here I have 3 questions for you.

  1. Who should apologize to whom?
  2. What for?
  3. Why?

Now you get to weigh in.

First, if you were Zoe, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, I know I blew my lid Saturday morning and I’m sorry but honestly Zoe you were horrible to me at the party.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said on Saturday morning.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just kept my peace, not said a word, welcomed you home with open arms and not cared one iota that you’d slept in another man’s house – or was it bed – that night?
  5. Zoe, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Zoe and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in being jealous of Jake when I know that’s in the past . And I think I’m hurting more than you are that I lost my cool and yelled at you. I’ve never wanted to be the sort of fellow who screams at his woman . . .I mean, who does that?
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you friend-zoned me in the first few minutes at the party.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning in agony, seeing you schmoozing with all those hot shots and then waking up to find you not home even when I had to focus on the game and everything. Then, sure I have a tantrum so maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if you treat me like Zoe! What man wouldn’t feel outrage when his girlfriend goes home with someone else after the office party?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Expressed my  anger? Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Zoe stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk with you about this anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Zoe, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Zoe here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are flirtatious and with a bit of a thoughtless streak. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

Now, if you were Amos, would any of the following apologies make you feel better?

  1. OK, so I had a fun night, made a bad choice at the end and I’m sorry but honestly Amos, you were a grump at the party and way out of line on Saturday morning.
  2. I’m sorry you felt hurt by what happened at the party.
  3. Listen, if that hurt you I didn’t mean it that way.
  4. OK OK I was a total sh*t! I’m so so sorry! I ought to have just focused on you and made sure     you had a wonderful evening. It was selfish of me to want to dance with my co-workers and to stay at a friend’s house so I didn’t disrupt your sleep before the game, as you asked, remember?
  5. Amos, I made a terrible mistake. Will you forgive me?
  6. I know you’re mad at me Amos and I feel like a low life. It was horrible of me to get all caught up in work stories and not to dance with you. I think I’m hurting even more than you are that I stayed over at Jakes.
  7. While I must apologize, you’ve gotta admit, you brought all this on when you behaved like a sullen kid at the party and then totally lost your cool on Saturday.
  8. You know what, here’s the deal. I spent one whole evening and most of the following morning   being stressed out by your judgmental attitude. You made no effort to relate to my friends and then blew up because I choose to be thoughtful. So maybe I’m 15% of the problem but you’re packing 75% culpability I’d say!
  9. So yeah, I’m sorry and all that but heck, I’d probably do the same thing again if we go to a party together and you’re no fun. I’ll take care of myself and try to have a good time. Who wouldn’t?
  10. Hang on! I’m not sure I even know why you’re so mad at me. What did I do? Had some fun and stayed with a friend when it was so late. Is that so bad? Go on, tell me, why are you so mad?
  11. Amos stop it! I said sorry a zillion times already. I won’t talk about this with you anymore.
  12. I hate it when you bring that fight up Amos, it hurts. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK?
  13. OK Amos here’s the truth of it. I’m willing to say sorry, I’m willing to make amends and start over. I’m willing to accept you as you are and maybe you just are sensitive and a tad jealous. I can get over that.
  14. I’ve said I’m sorry haven’t I? Isn’t sorry enough anymore?
  15. Look, it really pisses me off when you bring up that event. Get over it already!

What do you think? How many of these pretty common forms of apology would work for you? Two or three? None?

Come back next week and I’ll give the therapists’ critique of each of these, plus deliver my  handy-dandy Best Apology Guidelines (maybe with a sexier title!).

Plus – if you’ve stumbled upon this blog and have read this far – thank you! Or if you read it regularly by following the Facebook link, thank you!  I’d love to invite you not to miss next weeks (or any of the remaining weeks) by hitting the “FOLLOW” button to subscribe.

In 2016 I plan to turn these Relationship Skills articles into a book, and having a healthy blog subscriber list all helps when it comes time to publish and market.

Here’s to some conscious apologies this week and come back for the critique.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

11 thoughts on “Apology “Fails”.

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