Let's look at why saying sorry is so hard. As many of you may know, shame is one of the hardest emotions to deal with. People feel humiliated and vulnerable. They may feel like they are losing their power, their place as the 'winner' in the argument. It is an admission of guilt.
Some people feel like they are bad or a failure having got it wrong. So as you can see, it is a minefield just using that one little word.
I remember having a discussion with my son about saying sorry. I would often tell him to apologise if he upset a friend: took their toy, ate their chocolate, left them out of a game, any of the many things that little kids do. He said, "why should I say sorry if I don't mean it!"? This was a very good question and one of a parent's common dilemmas. But as opposed to playground antics, among adults in a loving relationship, apologies need to be sincere as chances are you will reveal your insincerity at some point or other during a similar event.
When you do say sorry, authentically, you acknowledge the hurt of your loved one, and this is very healing and important. Your partner can feel seen, safe, respected, and apologising is a loving gesture.
Tension in relationships is so stressful, and added to the stresses of daily life; the tension gets on a feedback loop, which feeds back on to itself into the relationship, making it all just get worse. Relieve the stress by having the courage to say sorry (if you mean it) and make a gesture towards showing you mean it: a hug, a cup of tea, run them a bath, take an extra turn at waking up for the baby.
Saying sorry is not an alternative strategy of avoidance if genuinely felt. Apologies are not an alternative to changing behaviour but an acceptance and recognition of a piece of work you need to do. Apologies are signposts to healthier relating if taken up and followed to the healing they point towards. It is, for many people, a gesture that needs lots of practice and a key part of being in a happy, healthy, long-lasting relationship. If you could pick one thing to become good at, this is it.
I recently worked with a couple, one of the partners was not able to say sorry under any circumstances, even though she knew she had hurt her lover. It brought up so many memories of being a child and having to stand her ground that she had made an unwritten, unconscious decision never to apologise for her actions. Once she realised how much she was hurting her partner by not taking responsibility in this way, and what a difference it could make, she was able to let go of her childhood story. This little difference made a huge change in their relationship.
So when did you last say sorry in your relationship? Do you remember if that felt ok, are you comfortable with saying sorry. Is it harder for you to say sorry to your partner than a friend or your children? If so, do you know why, as this will point to how you feel about your relationship? Maybe saying sorry is losing crucial ground in a partnership where you feel disempowered.
Really pay attention to how easy it is for you to say that little word, how you feel when you say it, how you feel after, and what is the outcome. There is really a lot of learning in this one word. Take advantage of its gifts.
Another key factor in a healthy relationship is picking your battles, and this we will discuss next.