Were you ever taught to say “Sorry” even when you weren’t?  Or, even worse, were you taught to say “Sorry” when you had nothing to be sorry about?

It started very early for most of us. We were taught that other people count more than we do. We were taught that we’re supposed to play nicely with everyone and that includes those people we don’t like and don’t want to play with.

You did something and another kid complained. Mothers became involved and we were introduced to the whole world of interpersonal politics. How did that happen? Like this:

Mother:  “What did you do?” 

Child:  “I didn’t do anything.” 

Mother: “Why is she crying?”

Child: “She’s crying because I don’t want to play with her right now.”

Mother: “You go over and tell her you’re sorry.”

Child:  “I’m not sorry.” 

Mother: “You go over and tell her you’re sorry and play nicely with her.” 

trudge…trudge…trudge….

Child: “I’m sorry. I guess we can play together. ” 

What does that teach us when we become grown-ups?  Do we re-think it or just carry on blindly and blythely, often seething as we do it?

I was reminded of this whole thing when a client asked a simple question a couple of days ago:

“What do I do when my wife insists that I apologize for things I didn’t do or things I feel I do not need to apologize about?  She won’t leave me alone until I do. It drives me nuts.” 

On the playground, adults told us to say we were sorry.  The other kid knew I weren’t sorry. I knew I wasn’t sorry. But, the adult thought duty had been done by making me make nice. What did this teach me?  A few things for starts:

  • What I want doesn’t count
  • What others want counts more
  • What I think doesn’t count
  • What others think counts more
  • What I’m feeling is discounted
  • What others are feeling is my business…or worse, my fault
  • When I tell the truth, it is not good enough
  • Other people may be lying when they say things to me
  • It’s OK to lie
  • Telling lies helps relationships

You may have a few more to add. And, over the years, those things accumulate. Some folks learn to tell the truth and create boundaries. Others don’t. How about you?

With that first playground interaction, learning inter-personal politics had begun. Sure, those adults were charged with teaching us how to play nicely, but, apologizing when we were simply telling the truth is a very different lesson as well.  So, I’ll share with you what I said to my client in response to his question. First I mentioned the playground learning most of us had and then I added this:

Both you and your wife have likely been part of the artificial barter system of many apologies.  If you are both willing to look at this, you could try having a conversation about this when there is currently no issue with an expected apology at its center.

The question is: Is there trust and respect in your relationship?  Do you trust each other to be honest? If so, then, your wife would trust you to know when an apology was in order because she trusts you to be honest. If  she simply wants an apology because she wants you to do what she wants, or give her what she wants, there is a lack of respect for you.  She wants the apology to meet some need she has that she may not even be aware of.  That’s why getting relationship help is so important. Can you have that conversation with her? “

Sometimes, we can have conversations with our partners that move us forward. Other times we know that wisdom lies in getting some relationship help from an experienced couples counselor or therapist. That just shows that you truly care about the quality of your relationship and want it to become richer, and more intimate.

Saying “Sorry” when you’re not will not result in in a change of behavior. Saying “Sorry” when the behavior doesn’t change is a clear way of saying that you were not sorry at all.  That’s the way it works. Let’s learn to bring trust and respect into all our relationships, especially our relationship with our intimate partners.

If I can help you with your relationship, you can make an appointment online for an in-person or Skype session by clicking HERE.

P.S. We all know that no one wants an honest answer when they ask if they look fat in those jeans…lol. This post is about something much deeper and more important than that. If you’re just about to write a hot comment about the purpose of “social lies,” or “little white lies” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, please refrain.  And, I’d love to hear your comments and your learning about those deeper issues. 

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3 comments

  1. Yusuff Bakare -

    this post is a gorgeous idea had heard just one once from my grandpa, therefor i always earns marvelour knowledge from your posts keep it on please, you are doing fabulous Dr. Rhobert shaler. Have a wonderful rest of the day.

  2. Anonymous -

    As far as it is matter of kids it not a big issue to say sorry but between elders this worsens life.

    • DrShaler -

      Thanks for your comment. Of course, we have to teach children right from wrong, and that includes considering when an apology is in order. When we teach children to lie about their feelings, we begin the training that can lead to a myriad of difficulties in life…and, particularly, in our primary relationships.

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