The key element needed when seeking forgiveness

Your partner is very angry and hurt and unless you can fix this he may end the relationship. You have said you are sorry, you have tried to explain how and why it happened--you may even have tried to shift some of the responsibility on him. After all, if you had been getting your needs met, you wouldn't have done it. It was one stupid time that you didn't think, got drunk and slept with someone else. It wasn't about love, it was just reckless--why can't he understand this and stop making you feel so awful. He can be so judgmental.

When we have done something that has caused hurt, a breach of trust or a major crack in our relationship--we often try to fix it with an apology followed by an explanation. Some oldies but goodies are: "If you would just hear me out," "please try to understand," "I didn't mean for it to happen," "I was in a bad place," "it wasn't completely my fault," and "it/they meant nothing to me," to name a few. It's as though we are apologizing because that is what we are supposed to do, and our words say one thing but our nonverbal communication says something completely different. No wonder so many people struggle to find forgiveness when wronged by their spouse or partner.

Therefore before you try to seek forgiveness by offering an apology, you should reflect on what you are truly feeling about what happened and if you are able to take full responsibility for your behavior. If not, you will communicate a half apology, and one that is more about your needs than your partner's feelings. When this happens, as it often does, the partner becomes angrier and more distant as they feel they are being played by someone who is not truly sorry, perhaps blames them in part for what happened and/or will probably do it again in the future.

Once you have assessed your feelings and if they are mixed--you should do some work on understanding why you did what you did and perhaps accepting that there are problems in your relationship that you haven't faced or addressed, which often leads to acting out behavior that threatens the relationship. This could lead to a separation or perhaps to couples counseling, which may have been long overdue. Through that process you would address any issues and together decide if this is the right relationship. If you find it is, you will have learned much of what you need to offer an apology he can hear. It must be heartfelt, sincere and all about him and what your behavior did to him.

If you are able to see your behavior as something you can own and feel sincere remorse and sadness over what you have done, then you would be ready to make an apology. The following are things you should not do when asking for his forgiveness:

* Explain away and rationalize your behavior

* Lay blame on your partner for driving you to do it

* Minimizing what you did

* Defend what you did because you were weak, tired, unsupported

* Offer an apology accompanied by a but- which negates the apology

* Say you are sorry, but act as though you are not

* Make the situation all about you, how devastated you are that he won't forgive you

The following elements help the other person to hear and believe that you are truly sorry and help them to believe it will not happen again:

* Focusing on your partner and his hurt feelings

* Letting him know it was awful, stupid and wrong- and there's nothing you can say to change that

* Telling him how stupid it was to risk what you have and that you don't fully understand why, but you promise to work on it

* SHOWING him the hurt you feel over hurting him. Let your affect match your words

* Asking him sincerely for his forgiveness and telling him you will understand if he can't give it, and mean it when you say it

* Offering no explanations, rationalizations, buts or trying to shift any responsibility on him for your actions.

The critical element in making a genuine apology is complete regret along with taking full responsibility for your behavior. If these are not communicated the relationship will have ongoing trust issues. Even if he agrees to take you back, it just won't ever be the same.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

This is the first "Nonverbal Communication" article.

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"Top relationship destroying dynamics"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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