Recently, over tacos and icy margaritas at our favorite local taco wagon, Hubs and I (and everyone else) overheard an argument between a young man and his wife that went from zero to 60 the instant he blurted out, “God, you sound just like your mother when you say that.” Obviously this wasn’t a compliment, because she looked horrified and burst into tears. As she got up to leave, he smithereened any hope of working it out in the immediate future by calling out, “Sorry, I was kidding. I keep forgetting how sensitive you are.”
Hubs grinned and winced, “Ouch. That poor idiot.” The rest of us were thinking the same thing. Idiot guy better hope his mother hadn’t yet turned his old bedroom into a workout studio, because he was going to be sleeping at Mom and Dad’s for the next few nights.
All couples fight. You simply can’t put two people in the same house for years on end and expect them to agree on every little thing, with neither of them ever, even inadvertently, saying or doing something stupid. One of the most important components in any relationship is the ability to suck it up and apologize when necessary. Apologizing is rarely comfortable or easy, but like most social graces, it can be learned.
Sometimes the best way to understand what works is to know what doesn’t.
1. Don’t shift the blame. “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive about your weight,” or “I’m sorry you don’t understand that men aren’t programmed to remain faithful.” This is the worst way to apologize since the dawn of mankind. You’re telling her that she’s the problem for getting pissed because you screwed up. Now you’re fighting about two things instead of one. Good strategy.
2. Don’t use the word “but.” Ever. “I’m sorry I kissed your best friend, but she came onto me” is whiny and weak, suggesting that your only offense is the inability to resist temptation. So what you’re saying is that you’re a cheater with no balls.
3. Don’t overcompensate. “I’m sorry. I’ll never speak to that woman again” is stupid if “that woman” is her sister or works in the same office as you. This isn’t a solution. She knows you’re just blowing her off and done talking about it. Think of this one as the “white elephant” of apologies. Until you address it, it will always be in the room. And in the bed.
4. Don’t dismiss it. “Sorry.” Or worse, “My bad.” Monosyllabic, non-explanatory apologies are thinly veiled attempts to get her to shut up and get over it already, and she knows this. Trust me, it will come up again, and your next fight is going to be a doozy.
5. Don’t deflect. This is usually done with sarcasm. “Gee, I’m sorry. I’ll be sure to ask next time before I go out drinking with the guys until midnight, just in case you had other plans for me,” often accompanied by an eye roll. You’re saying it’s her fault for being so demanding and asking that you let her know if you’re not coming home at the expected time. Fine. But the next time you stagger home drunk and seven hours late, be prepared for her to be out. And don’t bother looking for a note.
6. Don’t blame the alcohol. After age 20, “I was drunk” excuses nothing. Alcohol releases inhibitions. It doesn’t change who you are. If you’re a douche when you’re drunk, you’re probably just basically a douche, period. Now she has two reasons to drop-kick your loser ass out the door.
7. Don’t play dumb. “I don’t know what I did wrong, but whatever it was, I’m sorry.” By the time two people have been married for several years, each one knows exactly what sets the other one off. “I know you’re upset because I forgot our anniversary, and that’s important. Can I make it up to you this weekend?” goes much further towards reasonable discussion than behaving like a child who denies eating all the cookies while his face is covered with chocolate. Man up, buddy.
8. Don’t use the word “if.” As in “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings when I laughed at your cellulite.” or “I’m sorry if I insulted your dog.” “If?” We’ve spent the last hour dissecting what you did, and now we’re back to if you actually did it?? Bite me, jackass.
9. Don’t apologize via cutesy email or, God forbid, a text. Because nothing says “I’m really, truly sorry I was a total tool and I did something stupid that hurt you” than a free e-card with animated puppies or a shorthand phone text that says “Sry babe. Dnr out 2nite?” Leave these methods to the 20-somethings. If you screwed up like an adult, apologize like one.
So what do you do when you’ve done what you did?
1. Acknowledge the offense and accept responsibility. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell that waitress I was married and not interested.”
2. Provide an explanation, not an excuse. Explanations provide a rationale for what you did. Excuses are juvenile reasons why it wasn’t your fault. “I went to the strip club with my buddies because we were all drunk and it sounded good at the time” is better than “I wasn’t the driver, and that’s where everybody else wanted to go, so what could I do?”
3. Express genuine remorse. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an faux apology knows it when they hear one. A simple, but sincere “I’m sorry” can melt the most unforgiving heart.
4. Offer a solution that prevents it from happening again. This one is a biggie. We need some reassurance that the offense won’t become repetitive. “From now on, I will filter my comments at any function with your family, and I’ll avoid any mention of your Aunt Bitsy’s uncanny resemblance to her pot-bellied pig.”
One of the best apology notes I’ve ever read summed it all up:
“I apologize for decking your ex at your office Christmas party. He was hitting on you and I overreacted, which embarrassed you in front of your boss and your co-workers. I apologize, and promise it won’t happen again. Next time, I’ll go over to his house. Love, Hubs.”
Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?