Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Whenever thirty-six-year-old Danny saw his twenty-nine-year-old partner Liz upset and crying about something he didn’t do, or something expectation he hadn’t met, he would start to feel guilty and ashamed and obey her demands for an apology. He wanted her to stop crying and rescue him from the guilt and shame. He wasn’t really interested in her feelings and how she interpreted his behavior.
Each time he apologized she got more angry and would either shut down or berate him even more. Danny floundered, not knowing what to do next or how to keep their connection intact.
When he felt aggrieved with Liz for not appreciating his thoughtfulness or his help around the house, he wouldn’t tell her about it.
He wanted her to feel bad and apologize for snubbing him, but he wasn’t going to ask. He imagined how sweet it would be when she eventually ate humble pie and begged him to take the apology and resume normal relations. He would build up a wall and isolate himself from her, making her feel like a pariah. Then Liz would apologize for whatever he was hurting and angry over. But he didn’t hear anything in there that eased his pain or tempered his fury.
Liz usually broke the ice the same day, and began interacting with Danny after one of his many apologies.
Danny could hold out in his bunker for two to three days or more. They both got a lot of power by excluding one another and it wasn’t easy to give up no matter what the level of apology or its frequency. So much of their lives were spent putting one and other in the dog house, and then when they felt vindicated, they made contact again.
So, what are Liz and Danny up to? They want apologies, fantasize about them, but feel unsatisfied when they get them.
The Journal Psychological Science, 2010 reports that partners value apologies much more in their imagination than in reality. When it comes it’s devalued and conflicts remained unresolved.
An article in the Journal of Positive Psychology, 2012 indicated that apologies don’t make amends fully. While they may take the sting out of the hurt, it feels hollow and empty – just paying lip service. Making restitution with some action to prove the sincerity of the apology needs to be added for it to have a lasting impact and restore the relationship to a congenial plane.
The Society of Behavioral Medicine 31st Annual Meeting 2010, reported that partners with a higher level of forgiveness recovered faster from the stress of the conflict and hurt. Receiving an apology helped reduce the stress.
My thoughts on this are that it’s possible that the one being apologized to calms down because their partner owns their wrong doing. This is more likely in women who recover faster than men when receiving an apology, according to the report. Perhaps women like Liz need to feel the connection restored between them and their partners so that their care taking needs are met. Men on the other hand may want surrender, and for them holding out gives them the power to get it.
Making the Most of Giving and Receiving Apologies in Relationships
1.Listening to the experience Liz has of him not meeting her expectations without needing to prove his innocence or accept blanket blame is the first step in finding empathy for her experience. Then and only then can he make the apology sincere.
2.Next comes asking Liz what she expected, why and discuss the reasonableness of it, negotiate, compromise and agree on how that would look for both of them.
3.Using blame and demands for apologies is part of a revenge and punishment power game. When Liz apologizes to Danny he would be well served to ask how she imagines he’s feeling and fill in the gaps. He needs to educate her about what makes him feel devalued, rather than devaluing her apologies which just makes her less likely to be genuine in making amends.
4.Discussions about what kinds of reparation and amends each would like goes a long way towards using an apology as an effective and efficient tool in fighting and making up.
One way to avoid break-ups and separations is to follow the outline above till it becomes satisfying, so that the couple can safely relinquish power and revenge as a way of interacting.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. Dr. Raymond is not responsible for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Jeanette Raymond