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“I’m Sorry” Usage 6: Apologies are Important

Usage 6: Apologies are important.

Having examined here a bunch of ways in which we commonly misuse the phrase and shouldn’t be using it, or shouldn’t be apologizing… I want to emphasize at the last that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever apologize. The ability to take responsibility for our own mistakes and genuinely apologize for them is key to maintaining good relationships. I feel mere talking can’t convey this well enough, so I’m going to share a couple more stories…

My friend and I had an argument. Afterward, I felt rotten, and apologized profusely via an e-mail, because I wasn’t able to see her in person, taking time out from the precious few hours I spend with my son to write the e-mail. She, refused to read the e-mail, and made a point of telling me so in the middle of my work day, then when I got angry about this, refused to speak to me for over a month. When we finally did speak, she basically told me that it had all been my fault, but it was okay now, because now she forgave me for it. This left me feeling resentful and unhappy.

While I was perfectly willing to accept blame for my own part in the misunderstanding, she was never willing to apologize for her own poor behavior. Eventually, this led to the end of the friendship. Contrast this to the next story…

Neither my boyfriend nor I were having the greatest day. We hadn’t had much sleep. I’d been rear-ended the night before, and been restless as a result and kept him awake. He had a deadline to meet with some writing, and was fighting tiredness to complete it. I was trying to talk about something, or explain it, but I was still rattled and not thinking clearly from the accident, so my words were slow and slightly incoherent, as well as having interrupted him in the process of his writing. He got frustrated with me, at which point I gave up, and went away. I could totally understand his frustration. I was frustrated also with not being able to clearly express myself, or even think clearly. I realized he was tired, and that this was a direct result of me having kept him up the night before. I didn’t feel that either of us was to blame here… it was just a blechy situation. But the relief, 15 minutes later, when he got up to give me a hug and apologize for getting frustrated with me, was immense.

Did he have to apologize? No, I don’t think so. It wasn’t a requirement. He wasn’t behaving unreasonably. Regardless of the circumstances though, he realized he had behaved in a way that wasn’t really his own ideal for how he’d like to respond, and so he came and apologized. It’s something I’ve found him to be really good at, and I feel like I’m learning from it.

Just because an apology isn’t ‘required’, or we haven’t done anything ‘wrong’, doesn’t mean that apologizing is the wrong thing to do, or that it will display weakness. It might be the very right thing to do – to let someone know that we aren’t really angry with them, or that we’ve said something we regret, even if it wasn’t unreasonable. I think I’m still striving for balance in when to say, “I’m sorry,” and when not to, but I’ve definitely made some strides in my understanding of how we use this phrase.

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