Ellene Lammers, LCSW, explains the importance of an apology and the impact that it can have on a relationship.
Conflict is part of every marriage. In order for the relationship to succeed, each individual will need to learn constructive ways of dealing with conflict—ideally as it arises.
Without this ability, over time, the marriage could have major challenges and difficulties. Even after the decision to divorce has been made, an apology can go a long way towards encouraging a more effective communication pattern. If there are children, it is healthier for them to be in an environment in which their parents are able to respect and cooperate with each other. If their parents are unable to peacefully co-parent, the children suffer from the emotional state of their parents’ relationship.
Once a divorce has occurred, many believe it’s time to move on and forget about the past.
These would be the same individuals who continue to harbor negative feelings about their ex many years later. A simple apology for an action(s) or words that were hurtful can be
transformative in moving forward constructively in a co-parenting relationship.
An apology has a few necessary components, but most importantly. it must be given freely. If the apology is not sincere and genuine, it may cause further damage. Some individuals do not know how to apologize and may feel so uncomfortable that they refuse to put themselves in this position. Others may believe that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Needless to say, these are the people who think that always having the upper hand is of the utmost importance. They might also be under the mistaken assumption that offering an apology means that they have taken full responsibility for everything that was not functioning effectively in the relationship.
Ultimately, these are the people who decide to ignore the need for an apology. Ignoring will not help or improve any situation. It just encourages the negative feelings to fester.
When researching the best ways of expressing an apology, the experts are in agreement. The first step is to express remorse. Just saying “I’m sorry” means a great deal to the receiving individual. The next step is to take responsibility for the offense. That means, not only saying “I’m sorry” but also saying what the offensive acts or words were. This allows the receiver to feel validated and heard. It also ensures that the individual giving the apology truly understands what s/he is apologizing for.
The ultimate goal of an apology is to express true regret at what was said or done so that a more positive relationship can occur. There must be no expectation that the other person also offer an apology. If this is the case, the apology is not being given freely and so it is not sincere or genuine. If something can be immediately done to “fix” what happened, then that should be accomplished. Many would call this making amends. If this cannot be done, the apology should be accompanied by a promise/pact to not repeat the same offense in the future. Actions speak louder than words. The passage of time is the only way to prove that an individual has changed and will not repeat the same offense again. Everyone makes mistakes, however it is important to learn from them.
The individual receiving the apology must believe the offender truly understands what the
offense was. In this way, it will become easier for this individual to move forward with the
relationship and not dwell on the past. Without an apology, grudges and negative feelings
continue to multiply and grow.
No one is perfect. Parents need to teach their children the importance of apologizing and to be good role models in expressing when they have been wrong. This will be a great gift to their children because as a result, their parents will have a more respectful and cooperative coparenting relationship. It will also result in children that are able to cope with their parents’ divorce in a healthier and more constructive way.
Ellene Lammers, LCSW
Collaborative Divorce Coach and Mediator