Apology - A Simple, Winning Formula

Apology - A Simple, Winning Formula

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I just can't seem to apologize—and mean it. I've half-donkeyed this necessary life skill for a long time.

And this hasn't worked well for me, especially as a choleric wife and mother. My patience tank came with a hole. I snark at my husband. I yell at my toddler.

This is not the person I want to be. 

There's a gap—between who I am, and who I want to be. 

And it's not enough for me to just "mind the gap." I need to mend it—for the good of my marriage, my family, myself, my soul. As much as I'd like to reform my neural pathways, change my habits and default responses—now—I'm finding that this process is heavy, and excruciatingly slow.

Until this gap is mended, I've gotta have a way to repair the harms I cause those around me. To be happy, I have to be able to live in peace and cohesion with others—and with myself. If I let things go too long, I am not a happy person. Neither is anyone else. I must have a way of scraping off the crushing layers of guilt, division, and unresolved conflict that pile up on me as a result of the harm I inflict on others.

Learning how to apologize—and mean it—is the only way for me. 

As I'm usually the first to start war and inflict hurt, it's seems fitting that I might also be the first to restore peace and attempt repair with a heartfelt apology. 

But this is tricky.

Too often, I find myself unraveling my apology attempts.

I twist them away from contrite "I" statements and poison them with "you" accusations. Which usually resumes or begins a(nother) fight, immediately.

These kind of flaky apologies are my way of wanting to skip ahead—to skip right over the yucky, critical part that comes before the apology.  The part where I have to pause, reflect, take responsibility, feel sorrow, and then apologize. I'd prefer going straight to the apology so we can all "just" move on, and get over it—isn't that the goal of apologizing? 

And I'm starting to see how that's a problem. How it totally misses the reason for apologizing: i.e., my words, actions, or inactions have hurt another person and created a division, imbalance, or injustice that needs to be made right if I want us to live in peace and happiness.

I can't be sorry if I don't know what I've done (wrong), and my apology will be flimsy, insincere, and ineffective at restoring peace.

But as I don't seem to have a knack for the art of spontaneous, sincere apologies, I've had to turn this into a practical science.


A Formula for Apology

I'm no expert on apologizing (or on avoiding the fight that predicates one). But I like to think I've made a small step of progress in developing and using a formula.

I rehearse my apology by running it through this formula, which makes it obvious to me whether or not I'm truly sorry:

APOLOGY = Love + Responsibility + Repair

Here's how I break that formula down, into practical pieces:

1.  Express Love*
2.  Admit My Specific Wrong
3.  Acknowledge Specific Harm I Caused
4.  Apologize
5.  Express My Desire to Stop
6.  Express My Desire for Repair
7.  Ask Forgiveness

In action, it might sound like this:

Honey, I love you.*
I was wrong when I ... 
which caused you to feel ...
I am sorry.
I don't want to hurt you.
I want us to be one / at peace.
Will you forgive me?

*If it's inappropriate to say "I love you" say "I want to make peace." This lets the other person know that you will be trying to reconcile, rather than pick a fight. And if you can't bring yourself to say "I love you / I want to make peace" then you're still harboring anger and not yet ready to apologize.

If I struggle with any part of the formula while rehearsing it—if I find myself adding or subtracting pieces, arguing, justifying, overexplaining, etc—then I've missed something crucial. I'm not (yet) ready to apologize. I need more time to cool off, to consider what I did, to think about how I harmed the other person, to figure out why it matters, etc.

If I don't sort these things out ahead of time, through the formula, I risk poisoning or unraveling my apology and (re)starting a fight.

Points to Ponder + Discuss:

  1. What effect does an insincere apology have?
  2. What effect does a heartfelt apology have?
  3. What parts of apologizing are toughest for you?
  4. What happens when wounds are left open?
  5. Ponder / discuss the following verse as it might relate to this article's topic:
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
— Hebrews 12:14
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