What to Say When… You Have an Overdue Apology

Car Wreck 38th Chestnut
Car Wreck 38th Chestnut (Photo credit: Aquistbe)

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

Is anyone waiting for an apology from you? Are you waiting to hear words of apology from someone else? In talking with people about apologies, I’ve found that more people than not would like to hear an apology today. I’m among that crowd.

I’d like to hear an apology from the stranger who ran into my car with hers at a traffic light. The force of the wreck pushed my car across another lane of traffic and into a curb. The force of my car hitting the curb turned my car around backwards where it finally came to a stop. Although my car was badly damaged, my body was intact. I didn’t require hospitalization but something inside me was gone.

My sense of safety flew out my shattered car window. I had been driving to visit my sister when the driver hit my car and brought my plans to a screeching halt. For months, I was nervous about driving under green lights. The police found the other driver to be completely at fault. I had seen her walking around after the wreck but we were kept apart. My car was repaired, and I moved on. But part of me still wanted something: an apology from the other driver.

What were her offenses?

  • Turning left without yielding to oncoming traffic (me)
  • Running into my car
  • Putting my life in danger
  • Ruining my short-term plans
  • Threatening my entire future

I haven’t gotten this apology and with each passing day, it seems more unlikely. I’m using forbearance. This means letting go and letting God be the judge. It’s one-sided forgiveness.DSC_6194

Perhaps you’ve been through something as bad as or much worse than my experience. If not, perhaps you can still relate to some of my feelings. I think a man named Claude Soffell could relate too. Who is he? I read online that Mr. Soffell was mugged 30 years ago. The man who mugged him, Michael Goodman, was briefly arrested for the mugging. Goodman wrote publicly that he has carried enormous guilt for this mistake he made back in his 20’s.

I was touched by the imperfect but contrite message Goodman recently posted on Soffell’s Facebook page:

What He Said:

“Finally I can say ~ I’M VERY SORRY that you had to go through that crap that day long ago, I wish it had never happened but it did.”

What Happened Next?

Apparently, Mr Goodman faced an intense ten-hour wait for a reply, but the man he had mugged more than three decades ago did eventually get back to him. He posted this reply:

“Michael A. Goodman, clearly you’re a “bigger man” today. wow. Memory is a funny thing, I recognize your name now, as well. So, apology accepted.”

Your Turn:

What is your reaction to this story?

Do you have an apology that you need to offer?

Is there an apology you are waiting to hear?

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Resolve to Keep Your Marriage on Track in the New Year

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

What does it take to have happy, healthy relationships? Do you treat your family members as well as you treat others in your life?

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Maddie is a mother of two grown daughters and one step-son. She and Nathan have been married for 10 years. They have little joy in their marriage but they are committed to staying together for the long haul.

Maddie asked me for marriage tips because they argue nearly every day and they have little closeness. I gave her these 4 pieces of advice:

  • My recipe for success at home is to reign in criticism. Think carefully before you speak.
  • Arguing daily is like cutting into the tree of your marriage with a hatchet. Don’t fall into this bad habit.
  • Replace caustic comments with compliments. Everyone appreciates praise.
  • Treat your spouse and other family members with the same kindness and respect you give to your co-workers.

John, a participant at one of my seminars asked me what to say to breathe life into his dying marriage. This was no small request! During a break, we talked about how he could turn over a new leaf with his wife. Later, he shared these thoughts that he went home and bravely offered to his wife:

  • I am sorry that I have been going all the time, pushing, neglecting, not listening, not respecting, not showing interest, not supporting your life. I am sorry that I have tried to make us look good instead of being good.
  • I was wrong and I accept the responsibility of working towards a solution. I have created hurts, emotional strains, anxiety on us and stress in many areas.
  • I believe that time will help me to make things right for you. I know there are years of hurts I’ve created.
  • Repentance is a change of mind that produces a change of direction.  If you will accept my apology, I am more than willing to work on changing.  I request your forgiveness.

John reported back that his wife was thunderstruck by what he shared. She had never heard him apologize without adding the word “but.” They talked late into the night about changes they could make to rebuild their trust.

When you think about your closest relationships, do you feel like you are on the right track? Do you speak with the understanding that angry words from you could cause permanent scars? Would an apology from you go a long way towards making peace? If so, don’t delay. Begin the new year with some reflection on your most important relationships. Write a letter of apology or appreciation to your life partner. Remember it’s the quality of our relationships that determines our satisfaction with life.

Your Turn:

What is the best marriage advice you have ever given or received?

How do you keep your closest relationships on track?

 

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What to Say When… You Drop the Ball

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Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

 

Have you done this? I said “Yes” to someone who needed my help but I failed to follow through. I’m very forgetful so that is often the reason I drop the ball but it’s no excuse for my mistakes. I fail to set reminders for myself. I trust my memory but my memory fails me time and again.

 

I believe that following through on my promises builds trust. Since this is a core principle for me, my pain is palpable when I’ve let someone else down.

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Last year, we hired a lawn care service because both my husband and I were under deadlines and we needed help. One morning, J.T. (my husband) was leaving for work and he asked me to call to get our lawn mowed ASAP. I agreed to do this but I got busy and I never thought about it again. That is, until J.T. asked me about it the next day.

 

I felt terrible and I rushed to apologize for my mistake. There was no one to blame but myself. I felt so bad about my blunder that it made me wonder why I had a pit in my stomach. What I realized is this: When your “Yes” means “Yes,” you know that others trust your word. Earning the trust of others feels good and disappointing others feels rotten.

 

Being a man or woman of your word is like having a hand stamp from Chuck E Cheese. When they wave the black light over your hand, your number stands out clearly. In the restaurant, this serves to protect kids from being taken by the wrong adults. When I say “Yes” but fail to follow through, my mistake lights up before my eyes as if a black light is shining on it. There is not a doubt in my mind about what I want to do: Apologize and try to make things right again.

 

What to Say:

How can you apologize in a way that will show others how sincere you are? Use part or all of this simple framework from When Sorry Isn’t Enough, a book I co-authored with Gary Chapman:

  1. Say, “I’m Sorry”: Express Regret
  2. Say, “I Was Wrong”: Accept Responsibility
  3. Ask, “How Can I Make It Right?”: Make Amends
  4. Say, “I Want to Change”: Genuinely Repent
  5. Ask, “Can You Find It in Your Heart to Forgive Me?”: Request Forgiveness

 

How did things turn out when I dropped the ball with my husband? Everything was fine. He accepted my apology and I made amends by calling our lawn care company. Although my situation was not serious, these principles hold true even when the stakes are much higher:

  • Try hard to follow through on what you say you will do.
  • When you drop the ball, take it seriously.
  • When you mess up, apologize.

 

Conclusion:

If you will follow these steps, you’ll notice significant benefits. First, issues that would have led to heated arguments should cool down quickly. Second, important relationships at home and at work will grow more trusting. Finally, you’ll have greater openness and joy in your relationships.

Your Turn:

What do you like to hear when someone has dropped the ball?

 

 

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My Las Vegas Radio Interview: Simple Apology Tips

I had a great time being interviewed by James Allen of Las Vegas. He published the audio file from our talk on YouTube.

Click here to listen. If you are pressed for time, skip over the intro song (one minute long).

 

 

Description:

Interview with Dr. Jennifer Thomas, clinical psychologist and co-author with Gary Chapman of “When Sorry Isn’t Enough”.  We talk about sincere and insincere apologies, making things right when you wrong someone, and showing that your apology is more than just words. This is a fascinating and practical interview with a leader in her field.
Aired on KKVV Las Vegas.

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Three Things Forgiveness Cannot Do

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Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

We often have the mistaken idea that forgiveness will heal everything. Let me share three things that forgiveness does not do.

(1) Forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of wrongdoing. The father who abandons his children may repent ten years later, but forgiveness does not restore the ten years of void.

(2) Forgiveness does not immediately restore trust. Once trust is violated, it must be rebuilt by the person being trustworthy. If that happens, then over time trust will be restored.

(3) Forgiveness does not remove the offense from one’s memory. It does mean that you choose not to hold the offense against them.

Apologies and forgiveness can be awkward. They can feel painful. In the long run, however, they give an immeasurable payoff: peace and connection with others.

Your Turn:

What do you think forgiveness can and cannot do?

 

 

The Apology I Need

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Lift This Barrier Between Us

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. In a departure from my usual advice, today I’m sharing an apology poem written by yours truly. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.

Please tell me you are sorry,

As it helps me know you care about my feelings.

Please admit you were wrong,

As it lifts my heart when you accept the blame.

Please show me how you’ll fully restore me,

As I was afraid things would never be right again.

apology i need sorryPlease commit to make changes that will prevent this from happening again,

As I can only feel secure in the future when I know how the past won’t be repeated.

Please ask me for the gift of my forgiveness,

As it can open the door to healing our relationship.

By Jennifer Thomas

All rights reserved

Based upon When Sorry Isn’t Enough by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas

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