Affair healing Blog
An effective apology is motivated by a desire to correct an offense against someone else and bring healing to the hurt we've caused. But apologies are too often used as a quick fix for our uneasiness. When we focus more on our own discomfort than on the distress of the other person, our apology is selfish. Selfish apologies are usually ineffective.
Some years ago, I stayed up late three nights in a row playing video games with my 19-year old daughter. My wife, Sharon, who also enjoys video games but needed to work the next mornings, didn't begrudge our late night game play. By the fourth night, I was tired. I started getting ready for bed at the normal hour. That's when Sharon informed me she was taking work off the next day and was hoping we could spend some more time together.
I had already started making my exit to the bedroom when this conversation started. Aware of her disappointment, I stood across the living room and explained that I was ready for sleep. She looked dejected and hoped I'd change my mind, but I was honestly tired and wanted to go to bed. And so I did. She decided to do the same.
The conversation continued as we sat in bed. Sharon explained her anticipation of spending some casual time with me that night and the hurt of realizing I did not want the same.
"I'm sorry you feel disappointed," I finally said.
Her response was quick. "I hate it when you apologize for how I feel."
"Well, I don't think I did anything wrong. I thought going to bed earlier tonight would actually be a good thing. I didn't realize your plans had changed. If you think I did anything wrong, we can talk about it. But the fact is, I didn't intent to hurt you and I'm sorry if you feel that way." That pretty much ended the conversation and I soon fell asleep.
But the next morning, I woke feeling unsettled. I pictured my wife sitting sadly on the couch the night before and this question immediately came to mind: Whose relief were you most interested in? The answer was obvious to me.
Despite the fact that everything I had said in my defense was true, and even though I regretted her sadness, my apology to her was ineffective. Why? Because from the very moment I was aware of her hurt, my response was driven by a desire for my own relief (from tiredness, from feeling guilty, from having to spend too much time trying to comfort her, from potential conflict). I was focused on what I needed, not what she needed.
If I had been concerned about her relief, not just my own, I would have probably returned to the couch to be close to her while we talked. I would have touched her. I would have assured her that spending time together was important to me, too. Maybe I would have even suggested watching a short Netflix show before going to bed.
The specific solution would not have mattered as much to her as my intention to provide comfort.
Maybe that question is a good one for you to consider when asking for forgiveness. Whose relief are you most interested in? Yours, or theirs? It's not wrong to want relief for yourself, but the power of your apology will be measured by how much you focus on what the other person needs from you.
This focus is especially important to understand on the other side of an affair. The unfaithful spouse certainly wants relief from guilt and wants to do whatever is necessary to move on, but unless he/she is willing to focus on understanding the deep wound inflicted on the other person and providing relief to their partner's pain, the apology will seem shallow.
What should you do if your past "sorry" wasn't enough?
Failure never has to be the end of the story. Once I realized the inadequacy of my response, I talked to Sharon about it. I admitted that I had been more focused on my relief that hers. I said I was sorry and wanted to keep figuring out how to love her better. That time, the apology worked.
Unless otherwise noted, articles are written by Tim Tedder, a licensed counselor and creator of this site and its resources. Twitter: @TimTedder