Here is July’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
My wife always insists on an apology after we fight. I feel like I’m always the one saying “I’m sorry.” Shouldn’t she have to apologize, too?
Signed, Tired of Trying So Hard
My short answer is “Yes.” You should both be in the habit of acknowledging your errors and making amends. If there has been a fight, I think it’s helpful for both partners to acknowledge how they contributed to the conflict. Even if one person carries more blame for the cause of the fight (say, you forgot to turn off the stove like you promised and burned the dinner she worked so hard on), both of you probably said and did things that escalated the fight. Accepting responsibility for your behavior shows maturity, respect and personal accountability (something we all look for in a healthy partner). Sometimes, though, it can be very powerful to give an apology and not ask for one in return, especially if you were clearly in the wrong and her response was reasonable. This goes for her, too.
I suggest you talk with your wife and let her know that you love her, want her to feel safe and loved, and that you want both of you exercising accountability in the relationship. Ask her if she would be willing to try an experiment for the next month: Each time one of you hurts or dishonors the other, you will take a moment to compose a genuine apology, accepting responsibility for your mistake and asking for forgiveness. The other person will practice showing grace, and accept the apology without revisiting the pain and explaining their hurt over and over again (I am very prone to this…I like to make sure my husband “really understands” why I’m mad. Usually, this only serves to get us into another fight.) If there is conflict, you both agree to practice acknowledging how you contributed to the fight and apologize for your behavior without any excuses or blame on the other. “I’m sorry I yelled and called you a jerk, but if you hadn’t slammed the door, I wouldn’t have had to” is not the most accountable of statements. Both of you need to remember no one can MAKE you do anything. You choose how to respond to your partner’s behavior.
The other part of this experiment is to do two secret nice things for each other every week of the month long experiment. This serves to keep you focused on showing each other love and kindness, as well as practicing genuine apologies.
I suggest you both read the article I wrote on giving the most effective apology. You can read it here.
Relationships should feel balanced. You both should be putting time and energy into showing love, caring for your home and family, and showing humility when you mess up.
My best to you both,
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.