Of all the skills you will need to keep your marriage happy, perhaps the most important for you to master is the art of the apology.
Those two little words—“I’m sorry”—are deceptively tricky, and difficult for most men to say (unless you are Canadian, in which case it’s almost a twitch).
For the rest of us, here’s the who, what, and why of how to apologize. (We’ll leave the where up to you.)
What Is An Apology?
First off, you need to fully understand what an apology is. An apology is not an admission of guilt: it’s an expression of regret. Saying you’re sorry doesn’t mean you are fundamentally wrong or a bad person. It simply means you are acknowledging the hurt you have caused, and that you will never do it again. That’s all.
Who Needs To Apologize?
Anyone who isn’t perfect should learn how to apologize.
If you’re perfect, you can stop reading here. But we can tell by the annoying way you’re breathing right now that you are far from perfect (computers these days listen in on everything, my friend).
Why Is It So Hard To Apologize?
The first sign that you need to apologize is that you find it difficult to apologize. You may be wondering, “What do I have to be sorry for?”
Where shall we begin… do you own a mirror? Have you smelled yourself lately? (Of course, we don’t actually know you, specifically. But based on statistical population averages, which indicate a certain percentage of men are basically savages, there’s a good chance you are hideous.
(And, obviously, if we’re wrong about that, we’re sorry. There: see how easy that was?)
The point is, it takes courage to apologize. Maybe you’re feeling ashamed of something you’ve done, but worry that apologizing will make you vulnerable or weak. Some people follow the old adage, “never apologize, never explain.” These people are idiots. They are not happily married. Apologizing is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it has many benefits that can support the health of your relationship. Sorry is the new black: it’s always in style.
One benefit of apologizing is that it allows the other person to feel respected and valued, as opposed to your wife or girlfriend going to bed angry while you sit alone at the kitchen table staring glumly into another Bud light lime.
A well-timed apology opens up lines of communication and helps rebuild trust. It shows that you understand you’ve done something hurtful and you don’t want to do it again. It’s a powerful way to express love and respect, and restore dignity to someone who feels hurt.
But it’s not only good for her: it’s also good for you. Apologizing can build your own self-esteem. Everyone makes mistakes. Real men take responsibility.
How To Apologize In Four Easy Steps:
Say Two Little Words.
In general, we are big fans of creativity, but an apology is not the time to reinvent the wheel. You have two choices. Either start with “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” You should say something like, “I’m sorry I spent our wedding money on baseball cards.” Or “I apologize for burning your parents’ house down.” These are both great examples of taking responsibility.
You should NOT say something like, “I’m sorry you think I cheated on you” or “I regret you felt hurt by me calling you fat.” That’s a passive aggressive way of shifting blame. This is a common tactic when people don’t really feel contrite.
Begin by stating clearly that you feel remorse, not because you got caught, and not because she flipped out on you. You must communicate that you are sorry because you recognize you did something hurtful.
Also, an apology is like a nectarine. It’s wonderful and delicious within a few days of ripeness, but if you wait too long, it quickly turns rotten. Even the most beautiful apology has an expiration date.
The secret key to a successful apology is don’t make it about you. Make it about her. Sincerely think about her feelings, and how you hurt her. For example, say something like, “I can only imagine how bad it made you feel when I was looking at my phone during our wedding vows.” You have to ready to absorb some anger when you bring up whatever you did, so be patient and try to listen. Do not begin looking at your phone during an apology.
Apply The Remedy
It’s one thing to say you’re sorry. Words matter, but actions count even more. If possible, you should take some appropriate action to remedy the situation.
This step requires thoughtfulness and honesty. There are some mistakes that cannot be easily fixed.
For example, if you shatter a vase that’s a family heirloom while playing football with it, you can’t just glue it back together or offer to buy a replacement at Kmart.
You have to think carefully about concrete steps you can take to repair whatever damage you have done. And don’t over promise as that will only make things worse in the long run.
Try saying something like, “I’m sorry I killed your shih tzu. If possible, I will master the art of re-animating dead tissue and bring your dog back to life. And if that’s not possible, I will get you a goldfish.”
Don’t Be A Repeat Offender
It is annoying when you repeat yourself verbally, but it’s much worse if you apologize and then continue to repeat the same behavior. The most important thing when apologizing is to make a commitment to try to change.
This doesn’t mean you won’t slip up. But you should take some immediate steps to show you are serious about trying to learn from your mistakes.
For example, you could say something like, “I feel so bad that I threw your cell phone out the window of a moving car. I will go to anger management classes, and keep the car windows rolled up from now on.”
How Not To Apologize
In case the previous four steps weren’t clear enough, here are four things to avoid when you apologize:
Making It Anything Less Than Heartfelt
If you’re nervous about fumbling your words, it’s fine to write your apology in a letter or email, or you can practice alone in front of a mirror. But don’t write it down and read from a printed page or use a teleprompter, as that may make you seem presidential.
It’s OK to provide some context, but don’t delve into long explanations or try to shift the blame. For example, don’t say, “I’m sorry I passed out in the bathroom stall and slept through our wedding dinner. But in my defense, I was really drunk and your family is kind of boring.” Honesty is crucial, but so is tact.
Expecting Quick Absolution
It’s great that you’ve apologized, but don’t expect instant forgiveness. You can’t, for example, say you’re sorry for accidentally electrocuting your girlfriend’s cat, then try to finesse the moment into some sexy time. That’s just disrespectful to Mr. Whisker’s memory. You have to be realistic: give your girl space and time to cool off. Allow your apology to settle in.
Consult With Your Lawyer
If you are apologizing for something you did which also happens to be a felony, don’t say anything out loud that can be used against you in court. Your words should heartfelt, but don’t confess to any crimes and stay vague on the details.
For example, you might say something like, “I feel really terrible about all the ‘you know what’ that I stole from the ‘rhymes with stank’ at the casino. But I was trying to pay off a gambling debt before our wedding and they make it look so easy in that Ocean’s 11 movie.”
What Happens When You Don’t Apologize?
If you never apologize you may think you are being strong, but in reality, you are burning up a non-renewable resource: trust. At some point, you’ll run out of trust and end up sleeping on the couch. Then on a lawn chair. And finally in a cot at the men’s shelter. Hurting someone you love is ultimately self-defeating (and bad for your back).