CC Men’s Center eNews

                                              August 2008

MEANINGFUL APOLOGIES -- Part 1 of "Recharging Relationships"

This is the first of a three-part series on improving our close relationships,

whether with spouses, others adults or with children


Just as any child who plays with abandon will eventually get a skinned knee, so, too,

anyone who enters into close relationships will get their feelings hurt.

Those hurts come with the territory. But how we respond to another's hurt has

everything to do with being able to heal and move on.

A child whose parent responds tenderly to the bloody knee will, quite likely, be back playing again within minutes with a smile on her face.

Conversely, if that parent tells a child that there's nothing to cry about and calls them a baby, he'll carry shame that will wound far more than the bloody knee ever could. And he'll know to hide the hurt in the future rather than risk being shamed for it.

Similarly, people who genuinely apologize for hurting someone they care about will help heal and strengthen the relationship, while others who, out of anger, pride or

embarrassment, refuse to take responsibility for their actions will only pour oil on the wound and cause greater distance and alienation.


Here's a very concise and wise recipe that comes from Randy Pausch, PhD, the Carnegie-Mellon professor who died recently from pancreatic cancer at age 47 and left a powerful legacy in the life-affirming way he faced death. (Can be viewed on You Tube -- just Google "The Last Lecture")

Proper apologies have three parts, according to Pausch:

1) What I did was wrong.

2) I’m sorry that I hurt you.

3) How do I make it better?

This seems so simple. So what makes it worth emphasizing? Let's break it down.

1) What I did was wrong: This means naming the behavior that was not OK. It lets the other person know you see what you have done AND that you know it was wrong. (As opposed to "I can see how you might think what I did was wrong," which doesn't take responsibility for your actions and is not a real apology.)

2) I'm sorry that I hurt you: This directly conveys that I hurt you AND I feel badly about that. (As opposed to "I guess that hurt you but I wasn't meaning to, after all I thought you would have preferred that I did what I did. Or, even worse, "I apologize for what I did but you need to apologize for what you've done. In this case YOU are the one wanting the apology. Or.... "I apologize but I still feel you're too sensitive." None of these 3 examples are meaningful apologies.)

3) How do I make it better? This, part, Pausch says, is what people often leave out....    While saying "I'm sorry" can go a long way to repairing the hurt, frequently something more is required to earn genuine forgiveness. By OFFERING to DO something to make it better, you are letting your partner/friend/child know you are willing to hear what THEY need you to do or say to really forgive you and move forward. And by FOLLOWING THROUGH AND ACTING on their request, you are demonstrating the meaningfulness of your apology in your ACTIONS AS WELL AS YOUR WORDS!

When apologies are not done well or at all, there's no way to stop hurts from building into resentments, which lead to more hurts. Pretty soon there's a big wall standing in the way of close connection. Meaningful apologies break down those walls and build closeness and trust.


1. Inventory your close relationships and identify where you may have caused hurts and have not found a way to adequately apologize

2. If you decide you'd like to try to repair a hurt you've caused (or contributed to), practice making an apology using Pausch's recipe

3. If you decide to include the third step and the person lets you know what you can do to make it better, decide if you are willing to take that step and FOLLOW THROUGH!

4. REMEMBER: It's never too late to apologize meaningfully.


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