"I was wrong."
"I'm sorry I said that."
"I apologize for yelling at you."
"I'm sorry I did that."
When I work with couples I sometimes like to joke that men are born with only a certain number of apologies that have to last them their whole lifetimes. So they have to be very careful in how they spend them and therefore they won't apologize unless it's for something really, really serious, and then only under great duress.
What makes it so hard for some men to apologize? Why should they learn how to do it more often, more clearly, more cleanly?
Let's start with some reasons I have seen men struggle with apologizing:
1) Admitting I'm wrong. If I admit I'm wrong, that I made a mistake, it means I'm somehow lesser in some way: less competent, less intelligent, less together.
2) "Yes butting." This sounds like, "Yes I yelled at you, but only because you did ________ to me." A variation on #1, it seems to stem from a man not being able to take clear responsibility for what he did wrong.
3) Vulnerability and weakness. For me to say "I'm sorry" is for me to be vulnerable in the moment in front of you, to make myself open to you. For a man, this can feel very threatening and it can get conflated with being weak.
4) Differing emotional expectations. I think most of us expect the rest of the world to experience life as we do. If I wouldn’t be bothered by something, why are you? Men are often not as focused on emotional nuance as their wives and partners, so their internal response to her “ouch!” is often “What’s the big deal?” It’s hard to apologize from that standpoint.
So men, what’s an apology and why should you give one?
I’m going to keep this simple.
1) When your wife and partner says you did something wrong, take a breath and try to actually listen. It will be really hard to apologize for something if you put up a defensive wall and don’t take in the necessary information to know what’s upsetting her.
2) Unless your partner is psychotic, there will be something truthful in what she’s telling you. No, it won’t be the whole picture, but it never is. Focus on the truth in what she’s saying.
3) Take responsibility. It sounds like this: “You’re right. I did that.”
4) Apologize. It sounds like this: “I’m sorry.” You have to use a sentence that includes the words “apology” or “sorry.” Saying “my bad” under your breath doesn’t count.
Bonus points: See if you can put yourself in her place and imagine what it would be like to feel the way she’s feeling. It’s not, “Well you shouldn’t feel that way because I wouldn’t.” It’s, “Wow. I imagine that really hurt your feelings when I ________.”
All any of us need when someone hurts our feelings or upsets us is to know that they really understand why what they did bothered us and are sorry for it. We automatically forgive as soon as we feel that and the resulting intimacy is greater than before the offense occurred. An ability to see where you went wrong and to apologize is hugely important, not just for relationships but for life.