“I’m sorry”… We hear it almost as often as we hear hello. We ask for those words, and yet when we hear them they are so overused it often doesn’t feel like enough. This leaves both parties confused as to what is actually needed to repair their relationship. There are currently two ways we use “I’m Sorry.” The first is to apologize for wronging someone, the second is to share distress with someone else. Both are over used and no longer hold the meaning they once did.
When I’m sorry is used to apologize to often it begins to feel like a get out of jail free card people often come into therapy feeling hopeless. Often there is no understanding as to why an apology is needed and they are simply trying to move past the anxiety in the relationship. However, every time they use “I’m sorry”, it loses meaning. The person needing an apology continues interpreting others behavior as intent to inflict pain, because they felt like there was an understanding and the behavior continues.
Naturally the question becomes what should we do instead. Most important is understanding. We simply can’t be responsible for knowing instinctively everything people find insulting. What some people find inexcusable in a relationship others may encourage in a relationship as funny due to the meaning they have attached to past experiences and personal tolerance levels. It is each person’s responsibility to let others know when someone has crossed their personal boundaries. You need to clearly and calmly let people know when they have crossed your boundary every time they do so, that way they don’t think your just overwhelmed elsewhere and you’re being irrational. When really you’re just trying to be patient until you no longer can.
Knowing that your being understood is extremely important in this process. If the other person can’t tell you what they understood in their own words you need to keep reframing the story your telling yourself, until they understand how your interpreting their intent. Once they understand they have a few options that tend toward healthier communication. They can explain their intent was not meant to cause pain, and explain what their intent was.
They can also express an “I wish” statement, considering this is often a new concept allow me to explain. I wish statements are used to create a blueprint for what should have gone differently on your end. This is not to say that you wish you were all perfect and no problems arose. It is however used to say within the problems that existed that were not in your control how you wish you responded to all of that.
This blueprint needs to be a genuine alternative or its meaningless. This blueprint makes it more likely that you will do something different when your emotionally overwhelmed. We are all flawed and it takes time to truly change our behavior, but when we make an I wish statement we are first of all stating that we can see how we damaged the relationship and that you see an alternative that could meet both of your needs next time. If you do the same behavior own up to it and either let the person know that you were being reactive and you continue to wish for the alternative healthier response, or that the response you had thought of is not as realistic during an emotional exchange as you had thought.