When did we give those two little words so much power? Don’t get me wrong, I believe that just saying sorry can go miles towards repairing a lot of things – IF certain conditions are met.
We’ve all see the stories and analogies about the nails in the fence, the broken plates, the crumpled papers. What we say and do has real impact on real people, and it’s not always 100% repairable. You can glue the plate back together but it’s not the same. You can pull the nails out of the fence but the holes remain. Saying sorry goes a long way to smoothing the paper, but it doesn’t get the folds out completely.
I got into an argument with my husband last night. It was dumb. We got a new alarm clock and I kept bumping buttons by accident. Laughingly he took it from me and set it on the ledge. Up until that point it was all fun and games. Then I reached out and pressed the button to turn off the little LED nightlight on the clock. I was careful because I didn’t want to hit the button next to it. I know I didn’t hit an extra button. I was looking at my finger, I saw what I was doing. Still something clicked that shouldn’t have.
ME: There, it did it again!
HIM: Well, that’s because you hit both buttons.
ME: No I didn’t.
HIM: Yes you did.
No/Yes and few times and then:
HIM: It wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t hit the button.
I walked out. I didn’t go far. I just went down and tucked the kids in because they have a habit of kicking off their covers and then I went back. I wasn’t even gone long enough for the knot of anger and hurt in my chest to go away.
You see, we got a new alarm clock because the old one was glitchy. The alarm sometimes didn’t work. But what he said, it made it sound like there was no way in hell there could be a glitch in the new clock. Clocks work right. Tech works right. The wife’s eyes don’t. The wife’s memory might not. And that hurt, a lot.
I walked back in and he smiles at me and lightly says, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pushed.”
And that’s it. That’s the end. I have to forgive him. I have to be done being mad and hurt. The whole thing is over. But dammit, it really sounded like he was brushing the whole damn thing off. He pushed the game too far and he was sorry.
He was also missing the point. I wasn’t mad because he said, “Yes you did” too many times. I was mad because I was fallible and the clock was infallible. And I wasn’t done being hurt and angry just because he’d apologized.
When I apologize to him I don’t smile. I don’t make light. I give him time and I take the time to really think about what happened, about why he might be angry. I apologize for what I feel like I’ve done wrong, and I really try not to tack the “but you …” on the end. This isn’t about the why I did it, it’s about me feeling bad for upsetting him. And then, if he’s not ready to hug me, I leave and give him some more space and time. At least I try to . I’m not perfect and this process was a long time coming.
Somewhere along the way we end up teaching kids that just saying sorry is enough. When someone says sorry that’s the end of things. That’s not how things work in my house with my kids.
We reinforce what sorry means: I feel bad for what I did, and I will try not to do it again.
If you willfully repeat your negative actions are you really sorry for them?
We reinforce that just because sorry has been said that doesn’t take the pain away.
You bit your brother? You’re sorry? That’s good, but look at his finger. It’s still red. It still hurts. He’s still upset. Saying sorry doesn’t take the pain away. That’s why we have to slow down and think before we act, we have to make better choices so we don’t hurt people in the first place. Maybe we should get him some ice. Maybe we should bring him his stuffed bear. Maybe saying sorry is the beginning and you need to DO something to help make it better.
I told my husband once after he apologized for something that I accepted his apology, I forgave him, but I wasn’t past the angry yet. I needed time to be mad. We really do need that time. Because without that time it dismisses our feelings as unimportant.
It’s more important to forgive him and make him feel better than it is to be angry so bottle that anger away, hide it, you have to be done with it when he says you’re done with it.
That’s not healthy or fair.
We need time to be angry, to work through why we’re angry, to decide if it’s something we can just forgive and forget or if it’s something we need to discuss with the person who hurt us. We need that time because it validates our emotions. We need that time or we’ll just keep bottling up our emotions until we explode and say things we regret.
And by we I don’t mean just women though it does happen to women more often than men. But men are not allowed to show emotion either. Remember that. We live in a society where women must cater their reactions to suit their men, and men cannot show emotional weakness to anyone. We’ve all been crippled by this modern day society. It’s not healthy for any of us.
So, for the sake of your marriage, your friendships, your relationship with your kids and parents, please, take the time to be angry. Examine your anger and decide just how big and deep it is. Please respect that people need time to be angry before they can smile and forgive you. And be honest. A fight is most often a two-way street. I know you want them to apologize. It takes a lot of strength to step up and say, “I was partly to blame for this fight and I’m sorry for that.” And sometimes saying that will make it possible for them to apologize to you too.