Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Are You Forgivable? Part 3: Stupid Apologies

Are You Forgivable? A Three Part Series

Part 1: Self Assessment
Part 2: 7 Myths Undermining Forgiveness
Part 3: Stupid Apologies

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Senseless apologies not only fail to work, they usually make forgiveness even more difficult. As mentioned last week in the article "Are you Forgivable? Part 2," some of us believe myths about forgiveness. These myths can lead us to use some of the senseless apologies that we later list in this week's article.

I'd like to point out that this series on forgiveness isn't just intended for couples dealing with infidelity—it is for all of us in committed relationships.

In marriage, if we fail to make amends when our mate is hurt, regardless if the act was intentional, we communicate that we don't care about them or the marriage.

We need three things to feel securely attached in marriage:

  1. We need to know we matter to our spouse.
  2. We need to know our spouse cares about us.
  3. We need to know our spouse is committed to us.

These three touchstones are foundational to feeling loved by our partner. We will feel unloved if our partner does anything that calls into question these three touchstones; we will generally react in an attempt to reconnect. Apologies are the key to restoring our attachment and reestablishing our sense of being loved.

It doesn't take much for us to feel the sting from the sense of detachment. It can range from something as subtle as coming home late or not speaking respectfully, to the ultimate betrayal of infidelity. Once we interpret our mate's actions as dismissive, one of love's touchstones takes a hit. We'll begin to feel like our mate doesn't care and think, "I'm not important to you. You're not going to be here for me." Anything short of reaffirming love's touchstones–through the process of making amends and the act of forgiveness–leaves an ever-growing distance between spouses.

Once a wound occurs, do you make senseless apologies that make things worse? Or do you make a heartfelt apology to help restore your relationship? Judge for yourself.

Senseless apologies compiled by Janis Spring, PhD1:

  • The two-second apology: "I'm Sorry."
  • The sanitized apology: "I'm sorry for whatever I did wrong."
  • The shirk responsibility apology: "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings."
  • The lack of ownership apology: "I'm sorry your feelings are hurt."
  • The perfunctory apology: "As I've said before, I'm sorry."
  • The vindictive apology: "I'll show you what it means to be sorry."
  • The grudging apology: "I said I was sorry. What else do you want?"
  • The expedient apology: "I know I'm in the doghouse unless I say I'm sorry, so here it is..."
  • The "Yes…but," blame-deflecting apology: "I'm sorry I did [X], but you're no Mother Teresa either."
  • The "Oh, what the hell" apology: "Hey, I'm sorry, pal."
  • The obsequious apology: "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

If you use any of the above-mentioned apologies, you may have just identified why your mate has had trouble forgiving you.

To be forgivable you have to communicate that your mate matters to you, that you care about them and their pain, and that you're committed to them.

According to Terry Hargrave, PhD2, an apology serves a two-fold purpose:

"First, it overtly states to the victim that the victimizer would desire to erase the pain if possible. In essence, if the victimizer could live the situation in which the violation was perpetrated again, he or she would rectify the damage. Second, it at least covertly serves as a promise to the victim that the victimizer regrets the past and will try to interact in a loving and trustworthy manner in the future. Therefore, the apology serves both the victim and the victimizer as a method or promise of restitution for the injustices of the past."

Hopefully we'll all learn how to do just that.

To learn more about how not to apologize, check out one of our Survivor's blog posts: "Another Layer of Forgiveness." In it, Samuel has some great insight into how to be safe for your spouse within the context of forgiveness.

Everyone's made mistakes in recovery. If you and your spouse are struggling more because of the mistakes made while fumbling through recovery, you can find hope in our couples resources. Thousands of people have navigated the critical steps required to walk through their pain and into healing with the 13-week EMS Online course and the EMS Weekend Retreat.

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  1. Spring, Ph.D, Janis A. (2009-10-13). How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To (pp. 155-156). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  2. Hargrave,Ph.D, Terry (2013-06-17). Families And Forgiveness: Healing Wounds In The Intergener: Healing Wounds In The Intergenerational Family (Kindle Locations 1562-1566). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition

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The "The “yes…but,” blame-deflecting apology"

Can't believe it's been almost 2 years since Discovery Day when my world and marriage were turned upside down. Things have seemed to get better but it's really more because we finally bought a new home with many, many, many projects to consume our waking moments. We never truly talk about the stuff that needs to be said and, reading through this article, I know my wife pretty much gave me "The “yes…but,” blame-deflecting apology: “I’m sorry I did X, but you’re no Mother Teresa either.”

Looking back on confronting her about her 2-year emotional affair, she laid out this excuse about why she did what she did and this same excuse continued to come back over and over and over again during the past 2 years of marital counseling and many, many arguments. Even now, I still feel like we are nothing more than two ships passing in the night without any real emotional, spiritual or physical connection. She makes love to me obligatorily, but in our daily lives, there's no hand-holding, no kissing (ever), rarely a hug and never ever any snuggling. It is a daily bitter pill to swallow wondering if this is what life in this 20-plus year marriage is going to look like.

I find myself dreaming about other women, which I know is wrong but when you are asleep your subconscious takes over and you wake up actually wondering if ending what feels like a dead marriage and finding the excitement and commitment of a new relationship with someone else who might actually desire you and respect you and love you and bring out the best in you again. I want that, I long for that, I crave that with every fiber in my body, and if it was with my actual wife, then that would be the most wonderful thing I could imagine. But when she is pretty much resigned to keeping the distance from you and you feel like she really doesn't have your back in life, then it is very tough to keep walking down the same unending path.

I have had such a very hard time with forgiveness because I constantly live with this daily pain of disconnect. We haven't been to marital counseling in a couple months -- this coming after going 2 to 4 times a month for a year and a half -- and that is hurting us tremendously. It's not that we don't want to, but we don't have the same corresponding work schedules or the finances anymore.

So what to do? I don't know. All I know is I have been praying fervently for so long that I have come to the conclusion that God just doesn't listen to me anymore, especially when He makes if perfectly clear that -- if I do not forgive her -- He will turn me over to the tormenters and refuse to forgive me. So is my lot in life and so is the rift in my relationship with both God and my wife.

And so the story goes....

blame deflecting

Man, I'm struggling not to cry as I read this. I hurt for you and know the pain exactly, as I too have an unfaithful wife who has spent 8 months smearing me to our closest friends, her family, and our counselor - blaming me to justify her lies and infidelity. Just in the past 3 weeks has she started to soften, agreeing to do the boot camp here, but she has been hampering my discovery process by withholding information....then when I find out something new, something held back or lied about earlier, it crushes the trust I had been watering and trying to nurture.

I can relate completely to the lack of connection. I have none either. She withholds all. The scary part for me is that during her affair, we were still having relations many times a week, and I had no idea she had given her heart and body to someone else. So, now I fear I'll never be able to trust if future closeness is actually real

I, like you, wonder if this is what the rest of my life will look like. Something has changed in me and will never be the same. The confidence, the feeling of being worth something to someone...

I do know, however, that God is still hearing you, and if not in this life, in the next you (and I) will know the reason He used this particular, excruciating fire to refine us. I'm in this for my 3 kids right now (ages 3, 5, and 7). I pray one day I'll be in this for her and for us. I'll pray for you...

Yes, but...

I’m the wife of an unfaithful spouse who sees me and my actions as the reason he had an affair last year and just last week he met up with her again. I’m devestated and am not sure if reconciliation is possible or safe, but I do know that Jesus came as a redeemer and restorer and yes, I hope that’s true of my marriage for my kids’ sake, but I know he can redeem and restore me, reguardless. I long for it. I Pray for it and I will pray it for you too.

Don’t feel connected

Was your wife always a person who had trouble connecting? It may be the way she is... And may never change. I’m on the other side of that coin and I have never felt a real connection to my husband... I would have loved to see him stick up for my honor, or have my back (shall I say).. Even 4 years after finding out about his entire fake life with me... He says he’s sorry, but somehow I can’t believe him anymore. He still hasn’t figured out why he cheated. Said he would... but avoids any conversation about it.

He destroyed my picture of the man I thought I knew (not even close) ... Almost 40 years lost to a person I never really knew. I want to know why... but I get “I don’t know”! Or.. I’m stupid... No true answers that could make me feel like I ever mattered to him. Just a person to cook, clean, etc.. All, I was! If I knew I had a life ahead, I’d go... Unfortunately I am not healthy (immune deficiencies caused from past PID/ STD ignored, because I was married and thought- [safe])...
I hope you get a better outcome! Good luck to you.. Sometimes people don’t want to be different than they are!

You are a good soul to try and make it work. She should understand that there are not a lot of people who have that much patience.

How to apolgize

Hopefully there will be a Part 4 - How to apologize. The two-second apology is the one I hate the most. There is no ownership for what the apology is for. There could be multiple reasons for the apology. Something like "I'm sorry for....." or "I'm sorry because I....." starts to move toward the reason for he apology, taking responsibility and being trustworthy in the future.

Apology? What's that?

I would be grateful for ANY kind of apology. I have not heard anything even vaguely resembling an apology in the three weeks since D-Day. It's like he says "yeah I did it and want to end it but she won't go quietly." Seriously?

What type of affair was it?

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