Sandra: (through her teeth) “Fine.”
(Rush runs off to dig up his copy of the Five Languages of Apology. Not quite remembering which one Sandra speaks, he hastily composes a thought that expresses each of the five.)
Rush: “Okay, honey. I’m really sorry I said that. I could see it really upset you. Tell me about it.”
Sandra: “I can’t believe you called me a prostitute.”
Rush: “So you thought I was calling you a prostitute?”
Sandra: “Yes! Weren’t you?”
Rush: (wisely sticking to his role as Listener) “Let’s come back to that after you finish telling me how you felt.”
Sandra. “Well, what did I do to deserve that?”
Rush: “Sounds like it came out of the blue for you.”
Sandra: “Yeah! I thought we were on the same page about this birth control issue.”
Rush: “So it sounds like you felt surprised and betrayed. Is that right?”
Sandra: “Yes, I did! I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
Rush: “Is there anything else you want to tell me about it?”
Sandra: (with a very slight lift at the corners of her mouth) “You’re using that Active Listening stuff, aren’t you?”
Rush: (careful to match her energy and tone) “Yeah. And now I’m going to use that Apology Language stuff too. Tell me how I do.”
Rush speaks the five sentences he composed. Sandra doesn’t respond much to the first two, but he sees her shoulders drop and a more open expression come over her face when he uses the third language. At the fifth language a tear comes to her eye.
Now Rush is truly feeling compassion for how much his remark hurt Sandra. He draws near to embrace her and tells her once again that he is very sorry. After a five second hug, he makes a joke at his own expense. She laughs and the connection is restored, the breach repaired.
Two lessons to take from this very public example of how relationships go bad:
1. You can bounce back from most errors with communication skills
2. The motivation to stay connected and to value the relationship over your own ego is a necessary pre-condition for #1 to occur.