Do you ever catch yourself apologizing before you even evaluate the transgression? If so, you have a friend in me. I do it all the time! If someone bumps into me in a store, suddenly I blurt out, “I’m sorry.” As if I am apologizing for being in the way. If I toss something to a friend and she does not catch it, again I say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Of course, I would acknowledge my lousy throw and not her terrible catching skills. And then, there is my marriage. I have heard this question several times in the past decade, “Heather, are you truly sorry or are you just apologizing to restore harmony?”
Have you ever had someone question your apology? Infuriating, is it not? Still, I have to stop and wonder if perhaps my husband has a point in his (occasional) questioning of my motives. As much as I enjoy hearing, “I love you,” if he blurted it out seven times before he left for work, texted it twenty times during the day, and smothered me with another thirty after work, it would not mean as much each time he said it – and the same is true with apologies. If they are thrown around haphazardly whenever there is a hint of tension, they do not mean very much.
Let’s briefly discuss self-worth. I hesitate to broach this topic because I think we spend too much time praising ourselves in American culture. Indeed, we have an entitlement problem. Many of us walk around on eggshells fearful of hurting anyone’s feelings – even if the person needs to understand some painful truth. Still, I think it is important to remember that we are of great worth – not inherently – but because of our identity in Christ. We are of value because of Him. A junky old guitar is not worth much, but a junky old guitar once played by Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton is priceless.
Those who belong to Christ are of great worth simply because of Him.
When we throw around thoughtless apologies, I believe it does something to our minds. Over time, we begin to internalize our wrongness. We question our intelligence and ability to make decisions. Eventually, resentment develops from always being the wrong one. All of these scenarios have happened to me. When I was a child, I apologized to my mother often and she rarely apologized to me. Maybe neither of us needed to apologize in those moments, but I hated feeling like she or anyone else was even a little mad at me. After years of this, I became angry for always being the one to apologize.
Then I got married and the same situation unfolded. Slight tension would lead me to say “I’m sorry” until I eventually felt resentful for always being the one to apologize.
Give It Some Time
In reality, no one was requiring me to apologize. I did it, not because I was always sorry, but because I have a strong need for harmony. If this is you, I would encourage you to decrease the frequency of your apologies and increase the time you spend thinking about each infraction. After you consider it from all sides, you may determine there is no need for an apology. If you do uncover a fault, then you can go to the offended party and specifically apologize for your part in the issue.
Specific apologies done later also always appear more sincere than split-second “I’m sorry”s.
It would be interesting to go back in time and discover when I started apologizing at every turn. It would also be interesting to discover which personality types tend to do this more. Does it have more to do with a person’s nature or upbringing? Is it less frequent in confident people than in those who struggle with self-acceptance? Feel free to do a study and clue me in on the results! ~smile~
Humility and the ability to admit when we are wrong are invaluable to relationships and marriage. We would never encourage you to lose these character traits. We would simply encourage you to step back, evaluate the situation, discover if you are to blame for anything, and then apologize specifically if you are at fault. This method will cut down on the self-negatives you put into your mind and add more value to your apologies when you make them.
If you want more bang for your apology buck, take this apology language quiz with your significant other. Once you know how your boyfriend or girlfriend best receives apologies, you can tailor your comments accordingly! My apology language is expressing regret and Eric’s is making restitution. Before we realized this about each other, we struggled to recognize that each of us were, in fact, apologizing in our own unique apology languages.
You can change your apology habits. Take it a day at a time, and before long you will be an expert.
What is your apology language?