I have an apology problem. Numerous relationships have been strained or abruptly ended by my refusal to say the words “I’m sorry”. It’s a phrase that loving people say to each other all the time, but it has never flowed easily from my lips. Most of all I don’t like doing anything just because I am supposed to or expected to, and apologies almost always fall into that category.
I don’t blame anyone who is a fan of apologies. We were all raised to admit error and express remorse for our mistakes. I just think it’s kid stuff. If you throw a rock and it breaks the neighbor’s window, you know your parents are going to march you over there to mumble the magic words of redress. No one asks you how you really feel about that neighbor or what your original intent was. All that seems to matter is that you broke a rule and that you say that thing you’re supposed to say. As adults I feel we can do better.
When someone on my team messes up at work, my policy is to immediately take the blame onto myself (regardless of the facts) and move the conversation quickly to remedies. It just makes sense. Who cares about pointing fingers when we all have a goal to achieve? I attempt to apply similar principles in relationships, with an admittedly lower rate of success.
When I hurt someone it is usually unintentional because I’m not a mean-spirited person. So there they are crying (or screaming) while I try to figure out what I did or how I could have avoided it. Talking through the situation helps us both to understand our different perspectives and where things went wrong. Sometimes I will note improvements that could be made (“I should listen to you more carefully”) or offer helpful advice for future situations (“When I say x, I really mean y”). There always comes a point where I believe the conversation is over until I realize that the other person is waiting expectantly for that elusive “I’m sorry” to wrap it up. I haven’t quite figured out how to explain that it is unnecessary without bad things happening.
If I weren’t staring down the barrel of an angry girlfriend, I might say something like this: The concept of right or wrong only makes sense if you assume that someone (who is not you) has the right to judge your actions and declare them to be “good” or “bad”. The Catholic guilt in me says that God has nothing better to do than to sit on a cloud and referee my life, but I’ve very nearly muted that voice in my head by now. Can I really wrong another person? Who judges that, and what if we disagree?
I humbly suggest that there is no right or wrong, no should or shouldn’t. We all make our choices however we see fit and no one’s judgement is any more or less authoritative than his neighbor’s. Forget about anyone who has wronged you. They haven’t. They have only done something that you find displeasing. Which, excuse my bluntness, is your problem.
In our marriage, we don’t apologize to each other. For anything. It is a conscious choice that we made and a promise we strive to keep. If you take away the easy out of saying I’m sorry, you are forced to find other words to describe how you feel or what you regret. Without the expectation of a child-like apology, you are merely trying to listen, to understand, and to communicate how you feel. It can only bring you closer together.
Love means never having to say you are sorry when you’re not.