Written by: Courtney Redman
Have you ever needed to apologize? Of course you have. None of us are perfect and we mess up all the time, especially with the people closest to us. But has anyone ever talked to you about the differences between apologizing, asking for forgiveness, and repairing a hurt?
If you’re like me, these weren’t explained to me as different concepts until well into adulthood. So if you’re interested in exploring these as distinct moves towards developing lasting repair, then let’s talk about it!
First let’s look at some common pitfalls with apologies and repairs, then we’ll explore the differences between these moves.
Shame and guilt do a great job of interrupting repair with a partner. When we feel bad about someone else’s hurt, it can be very hard to acknowledge the hurt or own the impact, and we can feel anxiously motivated to advocate for our intention to try and lessen the hurt.
Prioritizing our intention over the impact to our partner is another pitfall. This action attempts to move our partner out of a hurt place while making sure they don’t see us as someone who meant to cause harm. Again, while the end goal of relieving hurt and being seen well by our partner are important, we can accidentally invalidate our partner’s feelings in the process.
This can cause apologies and repairs to miss the mark when the hurt partner doesn’t feel understood or is given the impression that they need to move through their feelings quickly in order to make us feel better.
So let’s talk about some ways to adaptively move towards repair with our partners.
This action is familiar to most of us and is often taught in childhood. The most common way to apologize is saying “I’m sorry”, but these can be distinctly different messages. Sorry communicates that there is a level of regret, whereas apologizing can more clearly indicate recognizing the impact someone felt.
An important piece of apologizing is that it is not an admission of intention. Often, we don’t mean to hurt or upset people, but the impact of hurt happens anyway. Apologizing recognizes the unintended impact and is a way of validating someone’s experience.
This could sound like: “Hey, I apologize for forgetting to ask you about your day. I understand that felt hurtful. It wasn’t my intention to cause that.”
Asking for Forgiveness
Forgiveness can operate separately or together with apologizing. Not every apology will require asking for forgiveness, but usually when asking for forgiveness there will be an apology included. Forgiveness is more frequently included with breaches of trust.
This could sound like: “I apologize for not talking with you about this decision and I understand it felt like I was hiding something from you. I didn’t intend for my actions to be hurtful, and I would like to work towards forgiveness with you when you’re ready.”
Repairing is the action step that comes with apologizing and asking for forgiveness. This is where a lot of us experience anxiety due to either not knowing what to do to repair with a partner or fearing nothing will ever be enough to repair the damage. This is where open communication with your partner is important and building trust that repairs will be received can make a significant impact.
This could sound like: “If you’re ready to work towards forgiveness with me, I’d like to share with you some ways that I’m committing to doing things differently next time. Would you be willing to work with me to make sure this feels like a good fit for you too?”
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