The Anatomy of a Great Apology

You’ve done something. Your partner is upset. Now what?

Well, you can offer a good apology which will take you through the four meaningful stages of ~

  • REGRET
  • RECOGNITION
  • RESPONSIBILITY
  • REPAIR

For a complete refresher see The Anatomy of a Good Apology.

For most folks this is absolutely a good-enough approach when it comes to mending those inevitable rifts which open up between people in relationship.

Usually, there’s an understanding of someone being right and someone being wrong (even if both partners were both right and wrong, as in “You were wrongfully unkind to me, and I was wrongfully unkind back.”

And along with this way of thinking, there’s perhaps also the sense that this ought not to have happened. That the whole episode was a mistake and undesirable. As in “If you were a nicer / kinder / more thoughtful person you’d not have done this to me.”

However, this is a blog about cultivating great relationships, and folks who want great relationships do this differently.

If you want to develop a great relationship with your partner I’d invite you to cultivate a whole new approach toward these times when you upset one another. This is pay-dirt time when it comes to self growth and inner happiness – when you know how to mine for it!

In brief, times of friction and disagreement are simply growing pains. You’ve both outgrown some former way of being together – which often has to do with not giving feedback, sitting on your impulses and glossing over small differences.

These times of friction tend to involve your partner stepping on your (already embedded) inner landmine.

Screen shot 2015-10-26 at 4.52.36 PM

Usually, these landmines were laid down in childhood and they may have rested more or less dormant for decades. Maybe you’ve noticed you have a sensitivity to feeling ignored, or maybe you’ve noticed you dislike feeling “needed”, but you’ve coped. It’s not until your beloved comes along and kindly manages to “abandon” you at an office party, or “need you” too much at that same office party, that these inner landmines go off.  Screen shot 2015-10-27 at 9.19.48 PM

It’s a bit like back in second or third grade, when you’re given a column of numbers and asked to calculate the sum, and you start to add the column. It’s slow. You’ve reached a limit of sorts. The old adding the column you’ve used to date seems suddenly ponderous. And lo and behold, you break through to multiplication. A whole new learning edge!

Relationships are like this.

You’ve side-stepped her independence and ignored his neediness, until you can’t. This is great! Let’s roll up the sleeves and get to some inner healing.

Here’s how to try this.

1. CHECK YOUR ATTITUDE

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 6.03.34 PMRight when that landmine goes off – take a breath. Remember – the landmine is yours. Yes your partner seems to have had the power to remotely ignite it, but the deeper truth is, the landmine was installed on your watch and you hold the fuse. You just had no idea you were armed and dangerous all this time.

So, before you turn your anger, rage and upset all over your partner, take a breath.

Consider this an opportunity to explore, rather than a shame-blame fest.

2. SET AN INTENTION

Apologizing Quote #1OK – you’re dealing with the after-effects of an exploded inner land mine. What’s needed now is mutual curiosity, mutual understanding, mutual healing.

In short, what matters now is the commitment to grow your relationship into a place beyond that right/wrong idea. It’s too small….

3. CONSIDER THE INVITATION

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 7.05.34 PM

Check out Yogi Bhajan’s words above in blue.

I doubt many people dwell at this place of awareness all the time. But once in a while? Try it on. What bothered you about what your partner did? Give it a language, a judgment ~

  • She abandoned me!”
  • He was too needy!”

Turn it around.

What if you’ve just learned something important about your relationship with yourself? Do you sometimes abandon yourself, and have Parts who judge you about that? Do you sometimes feel needy, and have Parts who judge you about that?

What seemed to push your partner’s buttons? How would it be for you to get curious about what your partner “accused” you of, not because it is necessarily true about you and you can’t wait to lob an impressive defense. But because maybe there are some insights there into how your partner feels about him or herself?

4. GET DEEPLY CURIOUS ABOUT YOURSELF

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 6.35.57 PMSo ~

    • if your attitude is one of “no one is right and no one is wrong“;
    • and if your intention is to “deepen your relationship;”
    • and if you’re willing to see judgmental statements as being somewhat autobiographical;

might this allow you the inner space and safety to learn more about those vulnerable parts who get triggered and explode inside of you?

What just happened for you? Bring the event to mind and hold it lightly with curiosity, as if you were watching a movie. Let yourself replay who did and said what, to whom. Bring your awareness to yourself.

  • What did you feel in your body?
  • What did you tell yourself?
  • What was your first impulse?
  • What did you do?
  • What did you need right then?
  • If a loving wise person could have been with you right then, what could they have done that was helpful?

5. GET CURIOUS TOGETHER

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 6.45.03 PMNow for the pay-dirt time. Once each of you has ~

  • adjusted your attitude;
  • set an intention to deepen your relationship;
  • considered that judgments may be autobiographical;
  • focused within to understand what bombs went off and why;
  • it’s time to share.

It’s time to say “Wow – how fascinating! What just happened for us? ”

And talk about what you have each learned about what was happening for each of you – from the inside out. I have a sample dialogue below if you are not too sure what this might look like.

6. BE GRATEFUL

Screen shot 2015-10-21 at 12.46.56 PMAnd finally, far from feeling disappointed in these episodes, be grateful!

Intimacy is just that – opportunities to “In To Me See.”

If we did not occasionally ignite landmines and create these opportunities to get curious about ourselves and one another, how would the relationship grow?

Seriously. These mash-ups of our competing world views – these inner landmines triggered by a word, a look, a subtle or blatant action by a loved one –  reveal with an all too raw honesty our just-below-the-surface reactivity. And our reactivity is simply our way of keeping our vulnerability tucked safely away – inside. In the dark.

How else might we be brought so vigorously into the light of our blindness? What else would flush out these unconscious loyalties ~

  • to values long forgotten;
  • to the wisps and mossy tendrils of childhood fears;
  • to the ghosts of families long gone;
  • to burdensome beliefs we embodied as children having to do with our inadequacies, our not-enoughness, our unworthiness;

which unconsciously lurk in our deepest selves and fuel our need for protection.

This is the gift of relationship.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What might such a great apology look and sound like?

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 4.29.26 PM

Back to Amos and Zoe at the office party whose story originally appears here.

Let’s assume Amos and Zoe have arrived at the morning after the party and Amos has just unleashed all his pent-up emotions on Zoe. Right then maybe one of them recognizes that “Huston – we’ve got a problem!” moment and remembers having read this blog (hey – you never know…) and sees in that moment an opportunity to try something different.

ZOE to AMOS

Oh Amos – look at us! We’re both hurting ourselves and one another. You know, our relationship matters to me and I want to understand what happened last night and this morning. I want to do this differently. Would you be up for having a conversation with me or do you need some time first?

AMOS to ZOE

Well I sure know I’m hurting, but if you’re hurting too (which makes sense since I was just way out of line yelling at you) then yes. I definitely would rather do this differently. I hate losing my calm. I went from feeling all wronged and righteous to feeling like a total jerk. If there’s a better way, I’m interested.

ZOE to AMOS

How be if we agree that more important than seeing which one of us is the bigger jerk, we decide we are both right and both wrong. In other words – they cancel out and it’s more interesting to see how we each felt hurt and how we each reacted. That is, we dump the blame game?

AMOS to ZOE

Yes – that makes sense to me. The old “Who gets the Biggest Unkind Jerk” award conversation never works!

ZOE to AMOS

Thanks Amos – I really appreciate that. Yea – I hate that conversation too. You know, while you were out at your game and I was nursing my hangover here this morning, I had a lot of time to think about what was going on for me last night. Would you be up for helping me process that a bit?

AMOS to ZOE

Sounds helpful – much more fun than you listing off all my recent crimes and misdemeanors!

ZOE to AMOS

So I was super anxious about the party. I had this gut knot and I kept telling myself it was excitement you know – I usually love parties and any excuse to dance is fine by me. But I noticed I wasn’t connected to myself. I was sort of scanning the environment the whole time  – like I was unsafe.Maybe I don’t feel like I really belong at that firm yet: everyone is so Type A and ambitious. So when I met that group of folks I knew in the lobby and we rode the elevator I was almost play-acting. I noticed I needed them to see me and interact with me and I hate feeling vulnerable like that so it threw me off. I think I sensed your discomfort too and it felt overwhelming to me when I was in that state so I – almost unconsciously now I think about it – knew I needed to get some space from you. To stop drowning in my own fears. Sounds odd now I say it out loud.

AMOS to ZOE

Goodness Zoe – I had no idea you ever felt that way. I thought I had exclusive rights to that needy feeling! It’s so odd because I had a whole other story going on in my head. You know you looked so gorgeous and when we met up with the group I told myself you were flirting because clearly all those Alpha men would be better company (and probably better mates) for you. And then when you introduced me to Sally that was the confirmation right there. I take care of some single female so you can go off. It never occurred to me that you might be feeling sort of the same way I was — that we were both there, both feeling a bit vulnerable.

ZOE to AMOS

Yes – I used to think of you as needy, Amos. But I think it’s just that I so hate that part of me I’m hyper critical of it in others – especially the man I love most. So, what could I have done differently I wonder? I’m thinking if I’d stopped long enough to listen to those inner fears I had, before I wound myself so tight I practically bounced off the walls – we could have talked about how we both felt and what we each needed to make that evening if not care-free, at least fun.

I’ll spare you!

I could play this conversation out for the time it took them to each dig within, bring curiosity and compassion to themselves and share it with one another.

But hopefully you get the idea.

What a different sort of conversation.

Maybe give it a go one day. See if connecting to your inner vulnerabilities and sharing them with one another deepens the love and respect you have. Lean in. Purr a little . .

Screen shot 2015-10-27 at 8.32.59 AM

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.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

9 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Great Apology

  1. scottlearned

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful — and readily applicable — writing. I wish my family law clients could back up a few years and read your posts. At least some of them might find they don’t need my services after all, which of course would be fine by me!

    Reply
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