Relationships are a thing (4-step apology guide)

14 Apr

I’m sorry for not posting on Tuesday.  It was wrong because you expect it of me, and I didn’t meet that expectation and gave no indication that I wouldn’t be here, and that was disrespectful of our reader-author contract.  In the future I’ll try to have backup posts ready in case I don’t have time that day, or an occasion (like a wedding anniversary!) that day.  Will you forgive me?

This paragraph above is an example of the kind of apology that my spouse and I try to make to each other.  It’s a four-step process and I think it’s really important, and even though it has nothing to do with baking or math I think you’ll like it.  I ran into it last year via the mom network; here’s the original post and I recommend it (but also maybe you won’t need to read my post).  It’s an easy script but it works really well for my spouse and I to communicate.  Here are the steps,and my thoughts on them:

  1. I’m sorry for _________.  Instead of just saying “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry you feel hurt,” really identifying what you (the offender) did helps both you and the offendee feel on the same page about the situation.  Something like “I’m sorry I didn’t acknowledge your joke and bid for my attention” could be good.
  2. It was wrong because _________.  Notice that we’re focused on the offendee.  The point of an apology isn’t to make the offender feel less guilt, but to make amends with the offendee.  (Offendee-centric).  I’ve said it in a mean way to my spouse but I think it’s true: no one cares what your intentions were or what you meant to do, offender.  What matters is the effects of what you did, which is hurt the offendee.  Example: “It was wrong because I made you feel ignored/rejected/unloved.”
  3. In the future I will _______.  This part (actually, all the parts) is really important!  What’s an apology without a strategy for change, so you don’t have to continuously apologize for the same mistakes?  Again, concrete and specific and positive actions will make the offendee feel better.  No “avoid doing this” but more “do this other thing instead.”  Example: “I will strive to focus on you when we’re engaged, and let you know when I’m focusing on something else.”  Also, make it realistic.
  4. Do you forgive me?  This step seems lame because it’s always the same words, but it’s important to give the offendee agency in the conversation.  It’s not like you’re just hammering someone with an apology; an apology is useless if it’s not accepted/mulled over.  This also can open a dialogue with the offendee.

This is seriously amazing and I think everyone should use it.  The example post was by a teacher and this algorithm was meant for kids, but I love it as an adult.  I’ve only used it in my marriage but I think it would be good for every single relationship in my life (and once the kid is verbal, definitely that one).  It also hits all the points that “science” claims are important in apologies, see articles one, two, three.  (Since in my intro psych class we learned as gospel about the now-debunked Kitty Genovese effect and evolutionary psych, I’m very suspicious of psych that says “this is the answer” with no disclaimers/nuance.  I feel the same way about nutritional science).

I’ve only been married for two years (+two days), which makes me feel like this onion article when talking about relationships.   On the day of my wedding I received a note from one my spouse’s close friends/ex, which included these lines:

[The deacon] told us that marriage is something we must all work at. It’s not something we should take for granted, as love alone doesn’t hold one together. Marriage requires its endeavorers to make a conscious commitment to keeping it intact.

Talking about how to apologize to each other, what needs and wants we have, our different love languages, and taking every random quiz the NYT throws out has really strengthened our partnership, but these conversations don’t just appear when passing the salt at dinner; we have to focus on bringing them up.  Most of my friends aren’t married, and I don’t think anything I’ve written applies only to marriage: plus, according to Pew Research marriage is basically going out of fashion anyway.

Marriage specific: I highly recommend pre-Cana classes if one of you is or was Catholic; we just sort of gazed into space during the abortion/”family planning” 15 minutes during the incredible eight hours of what was essentially guided group therapy.  If pre-Cana isn’t an option, pre-marital couples counseling.  One of the questions in that NYT quiz above is: “how much would you spend on a pair of shoes?”  One of the questions from our pre-Cana workbook (yep, a workbook!) was “how much can the other person spend without discussing it with you first?”  Just the act of having to write a number down, and then seeing what your fiance wrote can either be a shock or a relief (we were off by 10% from each other).

Title of this post based on a very moving post on mathbabe about parenting (I will probably do a post about raising a toddler as a grad student sometime too).


2 Responses to “Relationships are a thing (4-step apology guide)”

  1. bf April 15, 2016 at 7:03 am #

    I’ve been married for close to twenty years and I think those are all wonderful suggestions – I wish we as a family were better at following them, particularly me.
    PS I totally plead guilty of misreading the last sentence as “treating a grad student like a toddler” :).


  1. “Strange” escapism- media thoughts | Baking and Math - November 23, 2016

    […] pull quote addresses this situation pretty well, but I’ll also make a nod to myself and a past blog post, and say your intentions don’t matter as much as the effects of your work.  So if you say […]

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