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Who Should Apologize for misunderstandings or miscommunications?

answered 10:41 AM EST, Sun August 18, 2013
anonymous anonymous
Is it bad for me to apologize to my partner to create peace in the house even when I do not think I should have to apologize? For example if a situation is both people’s faults or not really a big deal should I just apologize once I am not angry any more to make it go away so we can enjoy our life together. If I don’t initiate the apology the tense situation can drag on for days because she will never do it. But as soon as I apologize she will let it go immediately. I resent it but I also find it stupid to not just say those three stupid words to make everyone’s life more pleasant. I am sure there are other things that I do that are annoying to her that she looks past…

E W Says...

"Why should I have to apologize....?" is a question that has come from many mouths, most often my now teenage child when she was younger.  I took great pains to explain to her over and over and over that sometimes you apologize because you are "sorry that it happened" not necessarily because you own the full responsibility for whatever happened.  Apologizing can have more than one meaning and can be used to resolve things and move forward.  Most importantly, it is a way of saying that you (the other party) matter, and that you (the person apologizing) respectfully acknowledge that the other person felt slighted - no matter the reason.  That acknowledgment can be powerful and soothing.

As there are far too many situations in life involving "fairness" and degrees of "wrongness" let's narrow down the topic to apologizing after a misunderstanding or miscommunication.  Often both parties may feel unheard, both may think it is the other person's fault or responsibility, and feel themselves clear of blame.  The truth often lay somewhere in the middle - it takes two people to communicate and two people to attempt to give and receive an understanding of something.  So who "should" apologize?

Avoid power struggles.  Often the point of contention is not about the subject matter at hand, but rather a struggle for power - who gets to be in charge, who is more "right" or "wrong" or whose fault is it...  when the issue is an understanding that gets confused or a message that doesn't get received or given as intended, then both parties share responsibility for trying to get things sorted out.  The blame game rarely leads to anything productive and unless it is an acceptable part of the relationship, things don't get resolved productively.  The ability to separate real issues from minor annoyances that become more than they need to be means learning how to negotiate, engage only in "fair" fighting, and of course using good communication skills.

It's all about communication.  We are all individuals, even in the most coupled of couples, which means that no one can know exactly and precisely what another person is thinking or feeling.  This is the challenge of communication.  Our past, our present, our culture, our biology - everything that makes up our being, contributes to how we give, receive and perceive information.  This does not mean that one way is right and the other is wrong - it just means we are different and different means can suit different people and couples.  Couples counseling, relationship help books, couples support groups, and other such resources can help couples determine if they need help communicating or in using and learning different negotiation techniques.    

Meet both partner's needs.  So how do we know if we should apologize?  Given the above scenario, only you can be the judge.  I do believe that most relationships are a mixture of give and take, and giving a small gift of acknowledgment and love might be a key to opening up a more honest communication and a deeper relationship.  One way to look at this is that both partners give "gifts,"  receive "gifts" and ask for "gifts."  If one is asking for the gift of an apology, and the other partner feels this is an acceptable gift, then isn't it worth considering?  Relationships always involve trade offs and negotiating - they key is that both people feel the love they need and want and are happy with the state of relating.  Some people never apologize, some apologize constantly.  The bottom line is whether the needs of both in the relationship are met, and they feel they can continue on a positive and productive path.  Best wishes to you!

 

 

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Page last updated Aug 18, 2013

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