Throughout our nearly 20 years together (7 years of dating, 13 years of dating while married), We’ve both given lots of non-apologies. What is a non-apology? The type of exchange that has the intent of ending the argument without fully taking responsibility for our individual role in the conflict. In our case, the non-apology has sometimes started like this…
(After hours, or even days of unresolved conflict…)
Me: Look, Bay, this is getting old. We can’t keep ignoring the elephant in the room.
Me: I’m sorry if you feel like I did something to intentionally upset you. I apologize if you took what I said out of context.
Bay: **Blank stare**
As you can imagine, after a non-apology like this, the conversation usually goes downhill from there pretty quickly.
So what was wrong with that exchange? In short, the apology wasn’t a real apology at all. It was a surface attempt to push aside the awkwardness of unresolved conflict without actually dealing with, resolving, and growing from the conflict. In our marriage, those conversations have usually fallen flat. At our core, neither of us desire a surface relationship. In order to have the intimate connection that we desire, however, we know we have to be willing to go beyond what may feel more comfortable in the moment and truly seek to strengthen both our character and our relationship with every episode of conflict.
One of the clearest ways to strengthen your character and your relationship in the midst of conflict is by using this simple strategy. OWN IT. Yes, that’s right, OWN IT. Does it mean everything is your fault? No. What it does mean is that you’ll resolve within yourself to take responsibility for your role in the conflict and seek to grow as an individual, while using conflict as an opportunity to help your relationship emerge stronger in the process.
Adapted from The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, here are 6 steps to “OWNING IT” in the midst of conflict.
1. Avoid If, But, and Maybe
Resist the urge to use language that shifts the blame to others or minimizes/excuses your guilt. “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you” is NOT an apology. It does nothing to acknowledge what you’ve said or done, and suggests that you’re not even sure if you’ve done anything to contribute to the problem at all. Instead you should…
2. Admit Specifically
Even if you didn’t initiate the conflict, confess specifically your role in keeping the conflict going – Speaking too quickly without fully understanding the issue, using an abrasive tone, not listening, or even not having the proper attitude/ heart posture. The last one is key because even though we may think we have verbally responded appropriately, it’s been our experience that our conflict starts at a heart level, and if we don’t have the proper attitude, it shows, even if we think we’ve masked it with the “right” words.
3. Acknowledge the Hurt
If you want someone to respond positively to a confession, make it a point to acknowledge and express sorrow for how you have hurt or affected them. You may need to explicitly ask them how they felt as a result of your words or behavior. Make sure they know that you genuinely care. And that you acknowledge that you contributed to it.
4. Accept the Consequences
Sometimes, we confuse natural consequences with unforgiveness. However, the two are not synonymous. Forgiveness can be granted, yet we still may face unpleasant or unwanted consequences of a hurt or fracture within a relationship. Willingness to accept the consequence demonstrates true repentance in that it shows that you are willing to face the future of your relationship without an air of entitlement. Sometimes, forgiveness can be granted, and repairing the damage may still be a process. Accept that truth, and be willing to work through that process.
5. Alter your Behavior
An apology without a change in behavior does nothing to resolve the conflict or move the relationship forward. Don’t just say “I’m sorry” to end the discussion. Otherwise, it will surely resurface. Identify ways that you will approach the situation differently as to not continue unhealthy patterns of behavior that cause conflict. True repentance means “turning away” from certain behaviors. Otherwise, you’re just offering empty words.
6. Ask for Forgiveness (And Allow Time)
When you’ve truly confessed your offenses to the offended person, and taken steps to change the behavior, ask for forgiveness from a place of humility and not from a place of entitlement. Then allow the person time to heal from whatever hurt has been caused. Understand that each person has his/her own process of healing, so be patient.