Wednesday, April 18, 2007
How Authentic Apologies Open Relationship Doors
The tension in your marriage relationship is becoming unbearable...and deep down you know you're at fault. Your dilemma is: how do I proceed now?Implementing a solution can be far from easy, points out Dr. Peter Pearson, but nevertheless there is a solution, and in a popular article on our site, he outlines a formula for getting the results you want.
Yes, it's a matter of apologizing, but what does that mean?
Dr Pearson writes that in the early days of his marriage, the mere mumbling of two basic words was sometimes sufficient to calm ruffled feathers and heal bruised feelings. "It was as if I had a license to do what I wanted - as long as I looked sincere and said 'I'm sorry'. It was like having a 'Get out of jail free' Monopoly card."
But he soon found out that just mumbling a couple of standard words under his breath, or even speaking them out loud or even with all the conviction in his command, wouldn't get him very far for too long.
Dr Pearson and his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, work as a professional team and are the founders of The Couple's Institute. In this month's issue of their Practice Development Dispatch ezine, they revisit the topic of the key role of the apology in resolving marital conflicts. They quote a fascinating research project of a few years ago to illustrate and emphasize a couple of critical points.
The research study in question, conducted by law Professor Jennifer Robbennolt of Columbia University, really just confirms what we knew - or should have known - all along. Participants, ages 21 to 70, read a scenario describing a pedestrian-bicycle accident. They were asked to take on the role of the injured pedestrian and evaluate a settlement offer from the other party, based on information about the injuries, the other party’s conduct, and each party’s responsibility for causing the accident.
Important to note here that the settlement that the offender suggested did not fully cover all the costs of the accident.
Robbennolt found that when a full apology was given, 73 percent of the respondents would accept the settlement offer. When no apology was given, 52 percent would accept, but very interestingly, only 35 percent would accept when a partial apology was given (meaning that the bicyclist did not take responsibility for the accident).
“An offender who offered a full apology was seen as experiencing more regret, as being more moral and more likely to be careful in the future than one offering a partial or no apology,” commented Prof. Robbennolt.
The bottom line, and this is crucial: people who feel injured or wronged want to know that the other understands and acknowledges the essence of what they did wrong! This is the prerequisite and starting point for moving forward.
Dr. Bader elaborates that the research results remind her of her many therapy sessions with couples where one party has deceived the other. The offending party often wants to rush it through with some very perfunctory expression of guilt, and then put everything behind them. Sometimes even expensive gifts are given in an attempt to alleviate unspoken guilt. "I said I was sorry. Why aren't you getting over it faster? Why are you beating me up?"
But more often than not, such an approach just doesn't cut! A primary reason why they are not getting it over faster is precisely because a clear, unambiguous and sincere admission of guilt has not been forthcoming!
Dr. Bader sums it up by citing an old African proverb that is equally relevant in so many interpersonal situations:
"It is easier to put out fire in the house of neighbors than to deal with the smoke in one's
Indeed, there are probably few things more difficult for people to achieve than the fault that lies within themselves.
May we all merit, when the occasion arises, to rise to the challenge!