There are many things that warrant an apology including words, tones, and actions. Kyle and I discuss the obvious things that require an apology, and the not-so-obvious ones.
021: The Melody of Marriage—Apology, Part 1
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In the previous two episodes, we've been discussing conflict. Often, conflict can result in one or both parties feeling hurt, betrayed, or angry. When this happens, knowing how to apologize is important to maintain a healthy marriage. Next week we'll look at the definition of an apology, what an apology is and isn't, and the four keys to a good apology (borrowed from Aaron Lazare's book On Apology). But for today, we focus on the many things that warrant apologies including words, tones, and actions. So let's look at each of these categories more in depth.
There are many different forms words can take that require an apology afterwards. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is when someone intentionally says something mean to another person in order to hurt them. However, if you're in a loving relationship, this probably doesn't occur all that often. A more common situation happens when you say something and you mean well, but in reality it hurts the other person's feelings. Let's look at the fictional characters of John and Beth for example. Maybe John is trying to give Beth a compliment so he says, "Wow! Those glasses make your eyes look small." But Beth is already self-conscious about her eyes and she wishes they were bigger. In this case, instead of the compliment John intended, his comment would have ended up hurting Beth's feelings. When John realizes this, he can apologize to Beth and tell her that he didn't mean to hurt her feelings. Another harmful way of using words is simply to not use them at all. This is what some people call the "silent treatment." At first this may seem like no big deal. You didn't actually say anything to hurt the other person. However, if over half of our communication is non-verbal, then simply by staying silent when you should be speaking is cause for an apology. The final example we'll look at today is lying. Lying can take two forms. The most obvious is purposefully telling an untruth for whatever reason. However, a more innocent form of lying happens when we leave out a part of the truth. Both of these can hurt another person and therefore should be apologized for.
I never used to think that tone was something that could be apologized for. Kyle first introduced this concept to me, and it has really helped our marriage. Today, we'll look at three tones that can be apologized for. One circumstance is when we say things we truly mean, but in the wrong tone. Perhaps someone is emotionally hurt and therefore responds back with an angry tone. As the saying goes, "Hurt people, hurt people." For example, perhaps Beth is really angry at John so she yells, "Well it just feels like you don't care about me or really love me!!" It may be true that Beth feels like John doesn't care about her. However, she can communicate her feelings in a much better way instead of yelling. Therefore, she can apologize to John by calmly saying something like, "I'm sorry for yelling at you. However, I do still feel like you don't really care about me or love me." Another way that tone can be harmful is through exaggeration. Whenever you hear someone use the words "always" or "never" this is probably an exaggeration. For example, maybe John tells Beth, "You're always late," or, "You never listen to me." These statements are most likely not true. Instead, a better way for John to communicate his feelings would be to say, "There seems to be a pattern in your life of continually being late to things," or, "I don't feel like you've been listening to me lately." A final example of harmful tone is the use of sarcasm or cynicism. For example, let's say that Beth is angry at John because he consistently neglects to take out the trash. Perhaps they've talked about the conflict before, but nothing seems to change. So eventually Beth becomes cynical and starts using sarcasm when talking about the trash. Maybe Beth says something like, "If only someone would take out the trash every once in a while, then our house wouldn't always smell so bad." In this case, both people need to apologize. John needs to apologize for not doing what he said he would do, but Beth needs to apologize for being sarcastic with John. Because implicitly what she's saying is, "You are not trustworthy. I don't believe that you listen to me. My anger has dissolved into bitterness and hatred. I don't feel close to you at all. You are useless and without worth."
Another thing that can be apologized for are actions. Probably the most common actions that we immediately think of are situations where we do something we weren't supposed to do. For example, if Beth gets really angry at John and slams a door, or if John gets angry at Beth and punches the wall. These are both actions that should not have happened and require an apology. Even though the actions weren't specifically against the other person, they still hurt the other person through the nonverbal communication. Another situation occurs when we don't do something that we're supposed to do. This may be a little less intuitive. But let's take withholding affection. If John usually cuddles with Beth every time they watch a movie together, but one time he doesn't because there is an unresolved conflict between them, then this is something he can apologize for. The final action we discuss is not following through with what you say you were going to do. Perhaps you've had a conflict with your spouse and you've both come to a conclusion to change what you've previously been doing. For example, Kyle and I both disagree about how you should load a dishwasher. But we realized that we can both agree to rinse our dishes ahead of time before putting them in the dishwasher. However, if one of us stopped rinsing dishes, we would not be following through with something that we agreed to do. Therefore, we should apologize for our inaction. Obviously it takes time to change a habit, so there is also much grace that goes into this.
Question: Has there been a time in your life when you've had to apologize for either your words, tones, or actions? What was that like?
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