Sorry Like You Mean It

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The tricky thing about relationships is that we often hurt the ones we love. The problem is that humanity is a bit broken, and that means we have sharp edges.  History has proven we don’t get through life without, unfortunately, offending others unintentionally or otherwise.  The closer our contact, the more painful the experience as jagged edges of brokenness scratch and poke at the soft pink underbellies of those we cherish.  

It’s like trying to hug a porcupine.  Think of all those pointy quills! But if porcupines can reproduce without killing each other or swearing off mating season, we can certainly learn how to navigate the sharp-edged brokenness associated with the human condition.  Regardless of the dangers, we were created for connection.  Our families won’t thrive without it.

The process of two adults learning how to co-exist is challenging in its own right.  Add a child to the mix, and that challenge rises to a new level of complexity. Toddler or teen, kids are watching every move we make and learning a lot about relationships and communication from our example. 

The family dynamic will inevitably consist of two adults and a child who are all equally unaware of their propensity to inflict pain toward peer and parent alike. 

The typical remedy for this proclivity to offend is to say “I’m sorry” and move on with life.  For many, these words are all that is required to make amends. But not always.  When the same offense is repeated habitually, or the pain caused by the behavior is severe, saying sorry isn’t going to restore the relationship. Something more is needed.  

Whether the damage is mild, severe, or unintentional, offenses still hurt.  The following action steps communicate that you are not just sorry, but sorry in a way that expresses you REALLY mean it:

  • Acknowledge the offense. The accusation directed toward you may not even seem legitimate by your estimation, but that is not the primary issue. The person is expressing his or her perception of reality. When you accept someone’s feelings as their truth, and acknowledge it with words such as “I hear what you are saying. You are offended by the way I answered you just now,” you honor and validate the person confiding in you.

  • Verbalize your regret. Your intentions may be pure and innocent, but misunderstandings and differing perspectives can create hurt feelings and defensiveness even in the closest of relationships.  It’s not necessarily an admission of guilt to say “I’m sorry I hurt/offended you.” It is a means of expressing disappointment or regret that discomfort, frustration or pain has impacted the one you love and respect. 

  • Ask for forgiveness. This simple phrase, “Will you forgive me?” invites the offended person into the process of restoration. When your loved one considers the question and responds positively, a conscious decision is made to let go of any lingering grudge or desire to get even. It releases both parties from carrying the matter into the future. Forgiveness is a crucial step in the process of restoration.

  • Discover the correction. Asking how you might better navigate the situation in the future is a critical step in the restoration process. “What can I do differently next time this situation arises?” reveals you are looking for solutions and thinking about the future of the relationship. This insight positions all parties involved for success and avoids having to guess what to do differently next time.

Relationships will ebb and flow, having patterns of highs and lows. A conscientious process for achieving restoration will inevitably lead to a stronger relationship. There may be little hope for eliminating the brokenness of the human condition which cuts and crosses boundaries, but the journey toward restoration is always quicker when you can say sorry like you mean it.