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Why are apologies "meaningless" in relationships?

When two people fight or get hurt because of each other, don't you hear some elders saying "Sorry bol ke kissa mita do aur bhul jao"? Apologies usually work in relationships when they are sincere and followed by a conversation. Otherwise, they are meaningless when the real issue is usually not understood and an apology is given without understanding it. Most conflicts in a relationship cannot be resolved. The topmost reason an apology doesn't work is because it does not address resolution. It is mostly used to mitigate the issue and suppress the partner's emotions after being hurt. "Abhi sorry toh bol diya, aur kya chahiye tumhe?" Then, the hurt partner fumbles with a response because they too wanted an apology and they got it. So why doesn't it feel any better?

Most times, a conflict or hurt caused by a partner is a reflection of your own past experiences in life.

For example, if you have been body-shamed in the past, any comment on your body by your partner may trigger a fight, flight or freeze response. This happens because your mind tries hard to protect itself from further hurt. When the partner realises that they were wrong in commenting about your body, they might say "Hey, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said this. I won't repeat it in the future."No matter how sincere the partner is, you don't feel the depth of it because this apology is more about the PARTNER and less about YOU.

"I hurt you." "I am responsible". "I won't repeat this". "I don't want a fight over this." "I want peace between us." "I have all the power and necessary strings to trigger you." "I also have the power to make you feel better."

Now, do you see what is wrong with this apology? Not yet? Look at the "I"'s in all these statements. This is the message you are sending to your partner.

Instead when you say, "Hey, I'm really sorry for my behaviour. I know how any comment on your body affects you and I should be more mindful of that. You have gone through a lot of trauma because of your experiences and it must have been quite hurtful.", it opens up a space for your partner to reflect, release and accept. They get the message that this is about their feelings, life experiences and that they are important. An automatic response then would be "It has been quite hard. Thank you for acknowledging this. Something about body shaming really triggers me and I feel powerless and inferior." This response in turn leads to an empathetic understanding by you. And you might say something like "I get it sweetheart. I hope you don't have to go through this again. Especially not because of me." Now, this response gives your partner the satisfaction that they needed from an apology. The feeling of your emotions being acknowledged, validated, accepted, is far more important than the "I'm sorry. I wont do this again."

Sometimes conflicts do not need resolution when this is the manner in which an apology is offered.

An apology does not mean that you are either inferior or superior to your partner. In fact an apology is supposed to make one feel like an equal.

It is supposed to ensure that you take responsibility of your actions, not because your actions are "wrong" but because they have hurt someone you love and are in a relationship with.

Most times, an apology is considered as an admittance of "wrong-doing."

When I ask couples if they have apologised for a certain hurtful behaviour, I usually get a response saying, "I haven't done anything wrong to apologise for. If I apologise now, then it will mean that my partner will have an upper hand over me and keep reminding me that I was wrong." I have to bring about a different perspective to an apology.

An apology is not about being right or wrong. It is about taking responsibility for actions that may have been hurtful, intentionally or unintentionally. Hurt can be subjective. Someone can get hurt by something as simple as "He did not offer me a cup of tea today." or it can be due to something as complex as "She abused me and left home without a word." Many times, partners ridicule the hurt by trivialising it and do not see that they have done anything "wrong". "What did I do wrong if i did not offer you a cup of tea? Why should I apologise for that?" When asked "What is it about him not offering you a cup of tea that made you feel hurt?", the response would be "It makes me feel invisible. When he does not take care of me, I feel unimportant." The partner is left exasperated. "But you are important to me. Why should I apologise for something that I don't even agree with?"

Apology is not about agreeing or disagreeing.

It is about acknowleding the reasons this person is hurt. Why are they hurt? Because you are important to them and they want to feel an equal in this dynamic. They want to be seen and feel that they also matter. It is no longer about a cup of tea. It is about attention, gestures of love and care, visibility and a sense of togetherness." The moment, the conversation shifts to these areas, the partner sometimes understands that somewhere they have been responsible in making a person feel this way.

Apologies get complicated with explanations and justifications.

For example, in the same scenario, if the partner starts explaining and justifying it gets worse. "I love you and you are important to me. But sometimes I dont have the time to give you the attention you want because I'm working hard." It goes even downhill from there when he says "You need too much attention and I dont think I have the capacity to give you so much of my time. I dont need so much attention from you so why do you need it all the time?"

Instead, if the partner feels the love and need for attention, he might notice that he has the autonomy and freedom to not give too much time and attention because he is SECURE in this relationship. This security that he has is thanks to his wife, who has ensured she treats him well. She has offered her time, energy and love in the form of attention in this relationship and therefore he does not feel the need as much. It is only fair that she expects some reciprocation. Whether he is able to give her what she wants in the way that she wants, is irrelevant in this matter. It is about understanding this simple dynamic, and acknowledging it to the partner. Many times, once this conversation happens, I can see a deep bond developing between the two and automatically there is lowering of expectations as well as change in action.

Adamance, stubbornness, rigidity and fear of being the inferior one kills the purpose behind an apology. An apology is offered to mend, not to sustain status quo. When more couples understand this, it can help create a beautiful bond and quality of relationship.

So, to all of you who are reading this article, and find it hard to apologise, or feel that your apologies are not working, try addressing the root of the issue than merely stating a phrase "I'm sorry".

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