I have a reader, let’s call him Bryan, who messaged me a few days ago asking my opinion about a problem he was having in his marriage. I’d never met this person. But I must say, I’ve been getting this more and more. Mostly because of my daddy blog. Sometimes people I haven’t heard from in years contact me. Sometimes it’s people I don’t even know, like Bryan. It’s almost always through Facebook, and it’s almost always men.
Brian was in a second marriage, and he was struggling with his stepchildren. His wife felt he was giving them unwarranted chores, and when he described some of the things he was doing, I sided with her. Apparently he was having his step kids fetch him this or that, things he could have easily gotten himself. Frankly, Brian was being lazy.
But to his credit, I could tell that he was a little fearful. I could tell that he loved his wife dearly, and reaching out to me, someone he only knew through reading my blog, took a lot of courage. Honestly, I don’t know if my own pride would allow me to reach out to a relative stranger for help. Long story short, Brian sounds like a high quality guy willing to search out ways to change and better his marriage.
Below was my response.
“Wow... Brian... I think you know the answer to this one, buddy. But check it out, this is how I would handle it. I’d go up to my wife and tell her that I've been treating the kids like slaves, I'm really sorry, and that I'm going to stop. Then... I'd stop. I might even humble myself and bring her flowers. I mean, most women know that their husbands aren't perfect. Hell, man, I screw up all the time. It's fessing up to it, and making a change that they are looking for. Not someone who doesn't make mistakes. I'd also apologize to my step kids. But I'd make sure my wife was around so I get credit. Your wife seems like a smart woman who loves you. She wouldn't bring this stuff up if she didn't want to help make things run smoother. Long story short, sometimes the best thing you can do is apologize.”
This whole interaction got me really thinking about my own marriage. One of the hardest things I had to learn was how to swallow my pride and say, “I’m sorry.” And in hindsight, it’s almost always over something silly that seemed intense in the moment.
Most of the time, it’s about getting caught up in kids, work, life… and forgetting to wash the dishes when I said I would. Or it’s because I need to stop some silly habit, or because I said something asinine in the heat of the moment that was so true and to the heart that it really didn’t need to be said.
After ten years of marriage, sometimes I apologize even when I know it’s not my fault. Even when at the core of the argument, I feel I’m right. I do this because there’s always something I can apologize for. “I’m sorry for losing my temper”, “I’m sorry for forgetting”, “I’m sorry for saying that. I was angry.”
An apology is one of the most disarming things I can do. It leads to resolve, depth of conversation, and compromise. It removes some of the anger and emotions from the situation. Every time I say “I’m sorry” I feel like I’ve raised a white flag that leads to meeting in the middle for a compromise.
But keep in mind that an apology is not a “get out of jail free” card. It needs to be sincere and followed by compromise and change.
I’m not going to say that I find it easy to apologize every time. Sometimes I’m so flaming pissed at Mel that I have to step out, walk a few laps around the neighborhood, and cool down, just to be able to spit out, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes it takes a day or even a week. And I’m not going to say that this advice is only for men. It goes both ways.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been thick with emotion because of this or that, and when Mel says she’s sorry, I can feel it drain out of me, and sooner than I expected, I am ready to talk, rationally, and find a compromise.
The wonderful thing about an apology is that it takes courage and love that can be felt by your partner. An apology isn’t about admitting fault. It’s about reaching for a compromise. It’s about showing your partner that the problem raised has validity, and that you are willing to explore the subject in a rational way.
When I tell Mel that I’m sorry, what I’m really saying is that I respect her opinions, understand her frustrations, and acknowledge the courage it took for her to bring a problem to the table so we can find a resolution.
You would also enjoy, 10 Crazy Things Said When Up With Kids.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley