An apology is powerful – done well, they open the door to healing, they make amends for wrong-doings and lead to forgiveness and the rebuilding of relationships. Done badly or not at all and they make relationships worse, they destroy trust and create obstacles to healing.
Would an apology make everything right with your divorce?
Why are apologies so important?
What makes a sincere apology?
Why is it so difficult to say you’re sorry?
Joining me for this Conversation About Divorce is Martha Bodyfelt, founder of SurvivingYourSplit.com. Martha is a divorce and life coach and also a regular contributor to this blog. She specializes in divorce recovery and apologies are a key element in her classes.
Listen in below or keep reading …
Why Apologies Are Important?
A sincere, genuine apology is an olive branch, a peace offering and that can make a world of difference for people going through divorce when everyone is hurting. It can come as invitation to work together on the divorce rather than fighting through it.
They’re important because the person making the apology is acknowledging that their behavior caused harm.
What Makes A Good Apology?
Bodyfelt says there are two key elements to a sincere apology: empathy and responsibility. Empathy is shown when the person apologizing demonstrates that they understand the pain the other person has experienced. Responsibility is the accepting that it is your actions that have caused the pain.
We’ve likely all experienced the situation where as kids we’ve been caught squabbling with a friend or a sibling and have been told to say we’re sorry and we likely complied. Chances are you didn’t really mean it. You said you were sorry with little thought because that got you out of trouble. That early training, as well-meaning as it might have been however, does not teach us much about the art of an apology. Often times ‘sorry’ just doesn’t cut it.
“People are smart,” said Bodyfelt. “They can differentiate between what is a real apology and what is a fake one. And sometimes the fake apology can be worse than no apology at all.”
To make an apology even more powerful, you not only accept responsibility for the wrong-doing, you ask what you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This sort of proactive approach to change might feel difficult or awkward but it offers the opportunity to deepen friendships and relationships. It conveys to the person who has been hurt that they have been heard, that they are valued and that you’re committed to making sure you don’t re-offend.
Apologizing Doesn’t Mean Reconciliation
One reason people are reluctant to apologize while going through the divorce process is because they don’t want the apology to be mistaken as wanting to reconcile. The marriage is still over.
“You do have to be very cognizant of what the apology is intended to do,” said Bodyfelt. “If one partner’s thinking ‘I want to apologize so we can move on with our lives’ but the other partner is misconstruing that apology as ‘I want to get back together’, that’s a whole other miscommunication issue that might have contributed to the divorce.”
You Can Ask For An Apology
Asking for an apology is tricky on a couple of counts. First, you might get a “I’m sorry” in return but then is that the genuine, heartfelt apology you need or is it an automated response to placate you?
“I would advise people to just be very specific with what it is that you want an apology for,” said Bodyfelt. “It can’t be this vague, nebulous request.”
For example, ‘I always felt like you didn’t support me in my career. I felt like you made a mockery of the things I wanted to do. It hurt my feelings. I didn’t tell you that before. I don’t know if you knew this but I would like an apology for that.’
This request is specific about the hurtful behavior and how it made the person feel. If the person receiving the request was clueless about their behavior this may come as a revelation and they may be receptive to apologizing.
What If There Is No Apology?
While you may feel that an apology is owed, it may not be forthcoming or the one you receive is cursory and meaningless. Bodyfelt says that you shouldn’t let that stop you from moving on or recovering from the divorce.
“If you’re depending on this one action from this person for you to move on, then it’s not just the apology that’s going to fix that for you,” said Bodyfelt. “You’re going to need to figure out how to get closure and move on yourself because nobody should be dependent on that on one thing.”
Could Apologizing Hurt You?
If you’re working through the legal divorce process, then you might be concerned that apologizing to your STBX could be used to against you and you’d be right to be concerned, especially if your negotiations are contentious and bitter.
For example, an apology for consistently working late and not being home to help with the children could be turned and used as argument to limit parenting time.
Conversely, receiving an apology during the divorce process could make you suspicious of your STBX’s motives. Are they saying sorry because they really mean it or are they saying it to secure a better arrangement? Remember, apologies are not bargaining chips.
At the same time, a heartfelt conversation could provide a breakthrough that could lead to more productive discussions and even a resolution. If that helps to reduce the involvement of lawyers and legal fees, that’s a win for everyone.
There’s no one correct answer here.
“I wish there was one general statement we could give but it’s so nuanced,” said Bodyfelt. “It really just depends on the dynamic that you had during the marriage and how your divorce is going.”
You Don’t Have To Accept An Apology
Another situation to be prepared for is when someone maybe your ex, a former friend, a family member, approaches you later and wants to apologize for their past behavior. Maybe they want to apologize for not being more supportive during the divorce, maybe they want to apologize for siding with your ex. You might have made the decision to have no contact with that person and Bodyfelt says you’re not obligated to hear them out.
The person who wants to apologize is likely working through their own problems. They may be seeking to make amends for past wrongdoings but that doesn’t mean you have to open up old wounds and hear them out.
” You don’t have to accept that apology,” said Bodyfelt. “You don’t have to talk to that person if you don’t want to. That’s entirely your decision but I would invite folks to think about what does that apology do. Could that apology help give you some closure? Could that apology make you feel a little bit better? It’s not going to take away all the things that were done in the past but if that’s a way for you to continue healing, you’re welcome to accept that.”
You Can Over-Apologize
Bodyfelt has noticed that women in their fifties and older have often been conditioned to say ‘sorry’ even if they’ve done nothing wrong or even for very minor things. It stems from being a people-pleaser, a peacekeeper, not wanting to cause a ruckus.
“If you didn’t do anything wrong, you shouldn’t be saying I’m sorry,” said Bodyfelt. “You shouldn’t be carrying that burden.”
Bodyfelt suggests to start noticing how often you use the word ‘sorry’ and to check yourself.
“There are other words in the vocabulary that denote politeness or empathy you can use instead,” said Bodyfelt. “If you bump into somebody say, ‘excuse me.'”
Another strategy instead of saying ‘sorry’ is to thank the other person. For example, instead of apologizing for being a few minutes late, thank the person you’re meeting for waiting patiently for you or for understanding the delay.
Martha Bodyfelt is a CDC Certified Divorce Coach® whose website “Surviving Your Split” helps readers navigate their divorce with less guilt and stress, so they can move on with their lives. For your Free Divorce Guilt Recovery Guide, stop by http://survivingyoursplit.com/ or drop Martha a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.