The Meaning of an Apology

By

The Meaning of an Apology
Learn about the enormous power of a sincere apology and how to recognize a false apology.

This guest article from Psych Central was written by Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D.

When one partner "wrongs" another, the ensuing guilt can have a major impact on the relationship. Let's take a look at apologies and why they can be reparative:

An Apology — The Expression of Guilt

In the interaction between partners there is a difference between feeling guilt and expressing guilt. In those cases where guilt is both a product of self-judgment (you really feel guilty) and judgment by your partner (he/she is clearly hurt by your actions or inactions), the expression of guilt is reparative.

What is an Apology?

An apology is a verbal, sometimes written, expression of guilt that conveys regret, remorse or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured or wronged the other. In the context of a couple’s relationship, an apology can be expressed in non-verbal terms (she cooks his favorite meal, he brings home flowers) but when the violation is so serious that it threatens the safety and integrity of the bond, as with infidelity, bearing witness in words becomes very important.

Why is an Apology Reparative?

An apology feels reparative because it not only shows care and understanding of the harm caused, it is often seen as a commitment not to repeat the violation or offense. It promises change.

Are All Apologies Sincere?

Unfortunately, no.  Here are some examples of less than sincere sentiments behind apologies.

  • “License Not to Change” -- Some partners misuse apologies as a way to give lip service to the pain they have caused without any intention of changing. In this case, an apology is used as a way to avoid self-reflection or ownership of blame. People who go this route often add insult to injury by faulting the partner for not accepting their apology.
  • “Dependent Reflex” -- Some partners panic in the recognition and ownership of harm or pain caused to their partner. Their apology, however, is less about empathic concern for the other and more about their dependent need for the other i.e. fear of losing the relationship. “I don’t want to lose you, but I don’t want to change.”
  • “Reflection of Addiction” -- Some partners are sincere in their apologies but so driven by an addiction that it takes precedence to the care and concern for the partner. Until they own and address the addiction, even they cannot trust their apology.

In view of these possibilities, the questions become:

If you are guilty, how do you prove that your apology is sincere?

If you have been hurt, how do you trust that your partner’s apology is sincere?

Essentially, the answer is the same for both questions. Both partners need to recognize the apology as the first step in a process. The reduction of guilt in one and the easing of pain in the other will only happen when the words of apology are actualized in personal and couple changes in behavior and response to each other. If there is love and a mutual wish for re-commitment, there is, in a sense, a necessary leap of faith one takes in trusting an apology.

We only know that an apology is sincere when it continues to prove that it is safe and rewarding to trust each other again.
 

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

John M. Grohol

Psychologist

Dr. John Grohol is a mental health expert and founder of Psych Central. He has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues, and the intersection of technology and psychology since 1992.

Location: Newburyport, MA
Credentials: PsyD
Website: PsychCentral
Other Articles/News by John M. Grohol:

How to Fight With Your Partner

By

In a healthy relationship, fights are going to happen.  (Often, a complete absence of fights is a sign partners have become irrevocably disconnected.)  So the goal isn’t to eradicate all fights; it’s to make sure you’re fighting well. What I mean is, a good fight is one that’s productive: grievances are aired, resentments ... Read more

Help! I Think I'm Falling Out Of Love With My Partner!

By

You'll hear many people say "we just aren't 'in love' with each other anymore." But, relationships don't naturally fall apart, according to Susan Orenstein, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert in Cary, NC. Other reasons often underlie a relationship's breakdown. Below you'll find these common reasons, along with ... Read more

Does Your Relationship Lack Romance?

By

Couples often tell us that they have lost the magical feeling they once knew in their relationship. They want to reclaim the romantic charge that they once shared during the early days of their relationship. Most of us will recall those early years as emotionally challenging and spiritually draining but full of tremendous personal and romantic rewards. In ... Read more

See More

PARTNER POSTS
Latest Expert Videos
ASK YOURTANGO MORE QUESTIONS
Most Popular