Imagine this: Your spouse ate the rest of the lasagna you had planned to serve for leftovers tonight. Now there’s no dinner and everyone is hungry and crabby. When you fume about it, he says dismissively, “My bad.”
How’s that for an apology? Do you feel any better?
It wasn’t sincere and it certainly didn’t own up to his carelessness. And it doesn’t put dinner on the table.
Saying “My bad” or a simple ” I’m sorry” may be fine for small, inconsequential mistakes if delivered with sincerity. However, these superficial expressions can easily get the offender off the hook and not feeling the full effect of how their actions hurt others.
Real apologies and sincere contrition involves much more than a few casual words. Apologies signal change and should be accepted by those who were hurt. Happy couples and family members are not free of mistakes, but they know how to treat one another when they let someone down. They use the “secret sauce” of apologizing liberally, every day.
These are the 4 ingredients in the secret sauce:
Be sincere. This is where you look the person in the eye, and with real intent say, “I’m sorry.” Don’t look away until they believe you are sincere. The level of hurt you caused should be matched with the sincerity of the apology.
Accept responsibility. “I should never have said those mean words and yelled at you.” Period. One of the biggest mistakes at this step is when a person begins to apologize and then inserts his big “BUT.” This sounds something like, “I’m sorry I ate the lasagna but I bought it in the first place so I should be able to eat whatever I want.” You can see how the “sorry” part of this was obliterated by every thing stated after the “but.” When we qualify, deflect, or excuse our behavior, it completely wipes out, or negates, the apology.
Acknowledge the result of your mistake. “I really hurt your feelings and I feel terrible about that. I made a mess of things.” State the impact of what you did so you can truly begin a change. This opens up the other person to accept your apology because their feelings are validated. You understand what you did. You are humble and brave enough to see through your loved one’s eyes.
It would be natural right about here to ask, “Will you forgive me?” True, if you have followed the steps to this point, you could expect the other person to show mercy. Asking for forgiveness is a way to have closure and start the reconciliation process. That being said, apologizing should not be conditional. It should be offered with an open heart, free of any expectations that the other person will accept it.
Address change. Jesus said to forgive the offender seventy times seven times. I’m all for that but I believe He also wanted the offender to learn from his mistakes and make progress toward improvement. I doubt He was asking husbands to excuse their wives day after day for overspending just because she says, “I’m sorry” every time.
If you are truly sorry, that means you truly don’t want to cause pain and problems again. Part of a real apology should be an action plan for how you will make an effort to do better. “I am going to work on this by…. Will you help me?” If you were the thoughtless person who ate the leftover lasagna, this is where you would say, “To show you how sorry I am, I am going to whip up some burritos right now. You just relax and I’ll take care of it.”
Enjoy eating your burrito, lasagna, or whatever you’re having for dinner tonight with your spouse. Be sure to keep plenty of secret sauce on hand to cover the mistakes we all make in families.