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.

EMS Online opens at 12:00 PM Central Time (USA) today. Space is limited.
EMS Online is our online course for couples to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours

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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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