Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Importance of Apologies

I actually like to apologize. I don't reserve the phrases "I was wrong," or "I made a mistake" or "I'm sorry" for huge incidents. I encourage myself to be generous with these words and to be honest with others about the impact that my faults and misconceptions can have on our relationship. I've noticed several benefits to being free with apologies, and I'd like to list them here:
  • By apologizing, I am being open about the fact that I am not perfect, and I therefore free myself from trying to live up to an unattainable standard in the relationship. I don't want people to expect me to never make a mistake, so I remind them that I can love them even though I am not perfect by apologizing when I do make mistakes, even if they're minor ones.
  • Apologies help me keep the relationship honest and sincere. It's very popular in our society to kind of gloss over mistakes and try to pretend they never happened. But I've found that this strategy introduces secrecy, deception, and barriers into relationships. We can't talk about the mistake or how to learn from it if I'm pretending it doesn't exist, and I'm carrying on a ridiculous facade if I pretend that I never make mistakes in the relationship. By apologizing, I can keep the relationship open and sincere.
  • My apology communicates my commitment to the relationship. When I apologize, I am in effect saying, "I'm not going to let my imperfections or my pride get in the way of our relationship. I am committed to overcoming these obstacles because I love you." This then gives the other person a chance to also reaffirm his or her commitment to the relationship by accepting my apology. By reconciling with me, that person is in effect saying, "I love you even though you're imperfect, and I'm also committed to this relationship."
  • Frequent, open, and uninhibited apologies make apologizing less of a big deal. The reason we avoid apologies is because they seem like terrible and momentous things. If we make apologies a routine part of the relationship (just like sharing affection or giving compliments) then they doesn't feel so bad. If we keep our pride and stubbornness out of the relationship altogether, then we don't have to fight them so hard when problems crop up. It's silly to think that apologizing means that we're admitting failure in the relationship. On the contrary, we're renewing our relationship through honesty and affirmation of love.
  • When I apologize, I send the message that it's OK for the other person to apologize too. I'm not the only imperfect person in the relationship, after all, so I don't want the other person to feel scared or ashamed about apologizing. Through my own willingness to apologize, I can show others that I will be sympathetic when they make mistakes, readily accepting their apologies.
Some of the most profound moments in many of my relationships have come when I apologized. An apology once transformed a peripheral friend into a close one and once renewed a special friendship that had been languishing for years. Apologies take away the despair I feel about problems in my marriage and help me remember that I am a good person and a good wife even when I mess up. I am not afraid to apologize anymore, because I've realized that an apology marks the depth of my love, not my failings.

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