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 also consult with companies about apologies. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.
A while back, Gary Chapman and I traveled to Colorado Springs for a taping of their daily broadcast. Here are some of my behind the scenes memories:
During the session, the interviewers asked some great questions about the five languages of apology. Gary and I have developed a rapport for interviews like this. Generally, we take turns giving the answers. If we have something to add to the other’s answer, we lift a finger or point to ourselves. When we are asked about teaching kids to apologize, Gary usually points to me and I step in to answer because I have young kids. When theological questions pop up, I point to Gary because he’s a pastor. You should hear what Gary says about forgiveness versus forbearance.
After our session, we toured the building and had lunch in the employee cafeteria. I also enjoyed meeting Jim Daly. He is one humble CEO.
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 ever been put in the “dog house” without fair notice? Do you find that your housemates, friends, or team members are mad at you for not doing something that either was not on your radar screen or was not as urgent as they seemed to think it was?
My friend Gail was raised by both of her parents. Her father had been in the military and he continued to run a tight ship. In fact, her mother handed off the housekeeping to her husband because he was so hard to please. Gail recalls having returned home from school and athletic practice only to have her dad lecture her about helping out more often with the vacuuming. Gail would have gladly put down her books and done the vacuuming to get him off her back but she couldn’t do that. Do you know why? Because he had already vacuumed the entire house. She was in the “dog house” with no obvious way of making amends to her dad.
Do you, like Gail, find yourself feeling bad about situations that are too late to fix? If so, you could try having this conversation with those people:
What to Say:
I really care about you and I want to please you. I feel sad when I know I’ve let you down and there is nothing I can do about it in the moment. I’d like to ask a favor of you. Would you please give me a “heads up” if there is something you really need me to do before you take care of it? I promise not to get mad about any gentle reminders you’ll give me.
Why This Works:
My husband of 20 years and I made this agreement some time ago. We take it a step further and agree that if one of us chooses to bail out the other on a task, we must be able to do so happily. This gives us a gift: If I see that he has done something I know I was supposed to have done, I don’t feel fear. I feel happy, knowing that he willingly did it for me.
As an aside, let me offer a moment of silent support for my husband and others who live with counselors. It can’t be easy to live with someone who “does communication” for a living.
What Doesn’t Work:
Carrying the load for others and then sulking about it. Living (or working) with angry people is NO FUN. Either be a cheerful assistant or talk about the problem while it can still be resolved. Those who are closest to you will appreciate you for being “user friendly.”
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.
When my kids get annoyed by my “helpful” reminders and admonitions, I try to back off. If I’m not in the mood to “relax” (as my kids say), I try to lighten the mood by saying something like this:
Look, you get all this great advice for free!
I need to give you my input. That’s why they pay me the big parenting bucks.
If only we really did get paid for our parenting. If most of us got a dollar every time we say, “Be careful” or “Be good,” we’d be rich.
Actually, I grew up with parents who rarely offered parting advice. Why? My mom once told me that she didn’t say goodbye to me with words of counsel because she reasoned that I knew how to behave and I would be good. For the most part, she was right.
As a parent, I’ve found freedom in this practice. I teach my three kids specific things (how to shake hands, why not to leave messes, who is the boss), but I try not to spout advice to their backs as they walk out the door. Instead, I try to say positive things like, “I’m excited for you today” and “I can’t wait to hear all about it when you get home.”
What’s the difference? Bottom line, it’s about ANXIETY. We feel fear for our children so often that it becomes a part of the air we breathe. This can potentially harm our kids because our worry is contagious. We can’t stop passing down our anxiety if we either aren’t aware of it or we think it’s a necessary part of our parenting job.
I counseled Anna, a single mother with two preschoolers. She realized she was overly cautious with her kids and she wanted to change. One day, her son wanted to run down a steep hill. She stood aside and let him do it but she couldn’t resist calling after him, “BE CAREFUL!”
We talked about something more positive she could say to him the next time he asked to do something outside of her comfort zone. Here is what we came up with:
“It’s risky because this is a steep hill, but it’s up to you.”
“How did you like running down that big hill?”
“I love watching you play!”
Why This Works:
Anna has parked her parenting helicopter and she is enjoying more special moments with her son. Also, she is giving him the freedom that comes with the word “Yes.” Once he got her permission, he knew he didn’t need to hold back due to worry. He literally took her “Yes” and ran with it.
Before she knows it, Anna’s little boy will be taller than she is. He will be heading out the door with car keys in his pocket. Anna already fears the bigger consequences that will come with bigger privileges. Driving a car, navigating relationships, and moving out on his own are all risky situations that make parents anxious. Anna is taking small steps now that will help her let go when the stakes are much higher. Anna is learning to trust her son. In the process, he will learn to be confident and to trust himself.
What Doesn’t Work:
Saying “Yes” but meaning “No.” If your children have permission to explore the world, your enthusiasm will show that you are really OK with them leaving. Hugging them goodbye while pouring on a layer of anxious words is a mixed message. You must make sure you can manage your feelings before you say the word “Yes.”
Try this Activity:
If you are prone to worrying, simply notice how often the words you speak are about your concerns.
Bite your tongue when a worried phrase attempts to pass your lips.
Replace negative phrases with upbeat words.
Thoughts: What do you remember your parents often saying to you as you walked out the door? How did their words make you feel?
Update: Congratulations to Michelle Z. She just won my monthly drawing for an Amazon gift card because she left a comment here on my blog. I’m going to keep this contest going. Good luck to everyone this month.
Do you run into (or live with) people who say “Yes” when they mean “No”? I find this is a common habit among people who want to please others. Consider the story of Emily. She can’t stand for anyone to be mad at her. She avoids conflict like the plague. This causes a real dilemma for her when she wishes Tim would stay home with her but he wants to go out. It happened again last Tuesday: Tim had made plans to play tennis with a male friend but Emily had been hoping they would finally get an evening alone together. The words say “Yes” but the face says “No.” To avoid upsetting him, Emily weakly said “Yes.” In her heart, she was hoping Tim would choose to be with her. When he didn’t change his plans, she felt sad, lonely, and annoyed. Questions swirled in her mind:
Why won’t he read my thoughts and cancel his plans?
Does he even know or care what it does to me every time he chooses his friends over me?
Is this relationship even going to work?
If you are like Tim, you go off to your event, have a great time, and get blindsided by Emily’s feelings when you see her next. Having developed a full head of steam while you were away, she shows her disappointment in one or more of these ways:
Pouting and sulking. If you ask what is wrong, she says, “nothing.”
Being passive-aggressive. She won’t admit to being mad but her actions carry meaning. She slams doors or drawers with irritation. She might make passing comments or use pointed humor such as sarcasm.
Directly criticizing you for having gone out. This is unfair and you know it, because she gave you her approval.
How can Emily and Tim untangle this knot of mixed feelings, unclear messages, and frustration? If you find yourself being blamed for having fun or even taking care of your many obligations, try this:
What to Say:
“What do you really mean when you say “Yes”?”
“If I take you at your word, is that really OK?”
“Could we make an agreement that we will be honest about how we feel?”
Say, “I won’t expect you to read my mind and you know I’m not good at reading yours. From now on, let’s agree that we are only responsible for feelings that are laid out on the table. Also, if I give you permission to do something but I later get mad at you, that’s my problem, not yours.”
Ask, “Is it a deal?”
Why This Works:
This is a simple recipe for acting with integrity: say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’ll do. You can improve your relationships at home, at work, with family and with friends by developing an agreement with them: You tell me how you really feel and I won’t be responsible for guessing what your body language means. After all, you can’t be expected to guess what others are thinking. To everyone, be clear about what you mean and prevent hurt feelings!
What Doesn’t Work:
Giving permission while hoping others will not take you up on it. Don’t say “Yes” too easily. If you do that, you’ll be saddled with resentment of your own making. You will damage the trust of those who are closest to you. Why? Because they will be caught in a “double bind.” That is, they will know that with you, people are “darned if they do and darned if they don’t”. People can’t read your mind; don’t expect them to try. The responsibility to speak up lies with you.
Share Your Thoughts:
When do you have trouble saying, “No.”?
New! Leave a comment here or under any of my posts this month and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon gift card from me.
I was interviewed this week by Alex Murashko of The Christian Post for his latest article. Here are some highlights from the piece:
Daughters not caught up in Father’s Day as an occasion to celebrate, perhaps because of hurt feelings, can try several action steps in an effort to bring more warmth between them and their fathers, says a psychologist and expert on apology.
Dr. Jennifer Thomas, who co-authored the recently released book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right With Those You Love, told The Christian Post that walls of mistrust between some fathers and daughters are built up over a long period of time.
“The healing process will also take some time so get started today,” she wrote in an email to CP. “If you offer an apology, do it without any expectation that your Dad will also apologize to you. When you have finished with your apology, STOP. Don’t say the word ‘but’ because that will negate everything you just said. An apology that includes a ‘but’ is a non-apology.”
There’s something that dampens my joy on Father’s Day (also Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day). It’s the fact that these holidays are not joyous for everyone. These holidays seriously rub salt in the wounds of some people.
Assuming that your father is still living, is it hard for you to pick out a card for him? Do you do this: pick up a card, read the sappy lines about him being “all a person could wish for in a Dad”, put that card away because your relationship isn’t that close, repeat the process over and over, and leave the store with a heavy heart. If this sounds like you, take heart. You are not alone. In my counseling practice, I talk to many people who wish their parents had done these things:
Said “I love you”
Spent more time at home
Said “I’m proud of you”
And had not done these things:
Yelled at them
Abused drugs or alcohol
Left the family
Other people say that their childhood was pretty good but their parents hurt them today in these ways:
Criticizing their parenting
Questioning their spending
Commenting on their weight
Showing favoritism for other family members
Making excuses for not spending quality time with them
Not calling them or not returning phone calls and emails
If your father has let you down in these or other ways, Father’s Day might not feel like a day for celebration at first glance. However, I would encourage you to think about reaching out to your father in a new way. If you two haven’t been speaking, be the first one to pick up the phone or arrive for a visit. If there has been tension between the two of you, speak or write down an apology for your part of the issue. To find examples of effective apologies, refer the book I co-wrote with Gary Chapman, When Sorry Isn’t Enough. If you are on speaking terms but you wish there could be more warmth between you and your father, you could try these things:
Give him a warm hug. He might also like to get a kiss on the cheek from his daughter.
Don’t just sign a card, but write out what you appreciate in your father. If the only thing you appreciate is that he gave you life, at least write that down.
Spend time with your Dad doing what he most enjoys. You get bonus points if this is not an activity you enjoy but you do it with a smile.
If he lives far away, arrange to Skype with him. If you have kids, let them chime in and show off their recent projects.
Give him a gift that shows you were thinking of him.
Do something for him to help lighten his load.
Whatever you do, don’t delay. Clear the air today. There are too many people who wish they had just one more day to spend with their fathers. Although no one is perfect, Dads are truly irreplaceable.
A fan just gave me permission to post her letter about improving her bond with her adult son. Enjoy!
“A few years ago, I was flying home from Colorado. My flight was delayed and I thought I’d pick up a book at the airport: Would you believe? “The Five Languages of Apology.” As I began getting into it, I thought: this would be great for the “forgiveness service” for the Marriage Encounter weekend. The more I read I began to think: hey, this is good stuff- maybe we can present it to the “Marriage: God’s Love Made Visible” Committee for a topic to present.
When I read the section on “Apologizing to your adult children,” tears came flowing down my face. Now, I know why God allowed me to pick up this book – IT WAS FOR ME! It was for me to apologize to our son. I couldn’t wait to get home and share this with my husband about what I felt led to do. You see, we had to ask our son to leave our home at the age 19, because of his very rebellious & disrespectful behavior. It was the most difficult thing we ever did. We don’t think our son understood, at the time, how much we loved him, but couldn’t allow him to go on in these destructive behaviors.
Our son moved across country. There was a “tension” in our relationship. This went on for years. After reading the book, I now realized that I had to take responsibility for my part as his Mom. I realized that many times I overreacted and did not act in unity with Rich (my husband) and caused more division. So I called our son – he is now 35 years old – and sincerely apologized to him. I let him how hard it must have been for him in those years, trying to be independent and figure out what HE wanted. He was having a most difficult time in his senior year with a soccer coach that constantly berated him.
I asked our son if he would please forgive me for any pain that I caused him. He said, “yeh, but I really messed up.” I said, yeh, but I was the parent. He was very receptive. Then he said “but Mom, didn’t I turn out well!?” You surely did, I said, and then we both laughed. It was a most healing experience for me! We now have a very loving relationship. The apology had a huge impact! P.S. After my husband read the book, he wrote a letter of apology to our son, which was well received. My husband also sincerely apologized to me for not being there for us when we needed him.”
Have you seen a phone call or letter make a HUGE difference in a relationship?