“I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done” ~ Adele
My husband and I never intend to push each other’s buttons on purpose.
But when we are over-tired, a misunderstanding or thoughtless words can provoke an extreme reaction.
There are times when I accidentally push one of my husband’s hot buttons, particularly his Bossy B*tch button. He will definitely react with strong emotions that will hurt my feelings and press my Dominating Male button, putting me on the defensive. Now, both of us feel wronged, and it is an irrefutable law of physics that the result of a high wind meeting a strong fire is uncontrollable combustion.
Only a deep and sincere apology can calm the wind and douse the flames.
Sooner or later, we are going to hurt someone’s feelings or “make a mistake”—an expression, which, by the way, is not an explanation, not an excuse, and definitely not an apology. Only an inexperienced young person, or woefully ignorant elder, believe that it is any of these.
One incredibly valuable lesson we have learned the hard way is that an apology is all about feelings. Forget about reason. It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. In an apology, the focus has to be on whoever is hurting the most. If you are both hurt, which is often the case, whoever is stronger (at this moment) must embrace the role of caring adult and comfort the vulnerable child persona of their partner. Men can hurt every bit as much as women, and both partners might be upset, but you have to be aware of which person is hurting more and act accordingly.
Whether or not we admit it to ourselves (and to our partner), when the “buttons” connected to our most damaged inner selves are pushed, even accidentally, excruciatingly painful feelings can overwhelm us. Some of us had bleaker upbringings than others, and if the action or speech of our partner, friend, child, or anyone happens to touch one of our deep, unhealed wounds, our rational world collapses in a sea of agonizing and uncontrollable emotion.
Saying “sorry” doesn’t usually cut it. “Sorry” is what we say when we accidentally bump into someone on the street. It fits that level of transgression quite nicely, but nothing more.
Communicating sincerity is the basis for a true apology. Sincerity implies both empathy and compassion. It’s always important to understand how you would feel if the situation were reversed, and you were the injured party! If you don’t understand that, save your breath, because your apology won’t work.
Remember, an explanation is not the same thing as an apology. It can be part of it, as long as you really understand the other person’s feelings and take them into account in your explanation. But an explanation should only come after a sincere and thorough apology. Don’t attempt to move on until you have received clear signs that your partner has accepted your apology, and the emotional air between you allows for forgiveness. Only at this point is the wound ready to begin to heal.
Certain ancient traditions contain profound knowledge of how to understand ourselves and others. Ayurveda, the sister of yoga, is one such tradition, as it involves a profound recognition of our different natures.
In the simplest terms, there are three basic natures (and their combinations): Pitta, which is related to fire; Vata, related to air or wind; and Kapha, related to earth.
My husband is predominantly Pitta (fire) and to a lesser extent Vata (air or wind). My own brain and bodily nature has the exact same characteristics, but I am predominantly Vata (air or wind) with a certain amount of Pitta (fire).
When our Pittas are well balanced, we are full of energy, purpose, and good humor. But when Pitta goes out of balance, we can become irritable, overly critical, and controlling. (The presence of self-righteous anger is clear evidence of an aggravated Pitta.)
The characteristics of Vata are quite different. When the Vata part of our nature is in good balance, we have a playful energy, strong intuition, and boundless creativity. When Vata goes out of balance, however, we can become overly emotional and easily hurt.
When the Kapha part of our nature is balanced, we are steady and good-natured. When Kapha becomes imbalanced, we easily become stubborn, withdrawn, and even depressed.
It used to be that when my Vata went out of balance, and my feelings were badly hurt, I would go off by myself. Alone, I would remain in my hurt state until I became overcome by despair. It is our good karma that both my husband and I have learned how and when (as soon as possible!) to intervene with a heartfelt, healing apology.
Our relationship is happiest and the most fun when we are both following a healthy lifestyle (which includes our practice of meditation), and working together on a creative project. Eventually though, the ups and downs of life intervene, and one or both of us will go out of balance—and only a good apology will save us.
How to Make a Real Apology:
- Stop talking. Take a minute to check in with yourself. What is going on with your body, with your emotions? We need to calm and settle ourselves before we open your mouths. In the heat of the moment, this might be not an easy thing to do, but it’s essential. If we allow ourselves to express anger or outrage, we both lose.
- Forget about reason. Forget how the situation started and who started it. (The whole thing probably began with a misunderstanding!)
- Even if you are convinced that you are blameless, if the other person is hurting, take responsibility for the painful reaction, which your words or actions triggered in some capacity.
- Comfort your partner.
- Give a sincere apology, one that fully acknowledges that, knowingly or unknowingly, you have caused pain to the person you care about.
- The thing that matters—the only thing that will heal the breech between you—is restoring and uplifting the emotional state of the other person.
An apology must go beyond the level of emotional damage that your partner is experiencing. We want not only to repair, but to heal the relationship—and that can take time, energy, and, if necessary, professional help.
Sometimes Band-Aids are required; sometimes a full-body cast. Once in a lifetime, a great song helps.
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart…
Wallace, Robert Keith and Samantha Wallace. Gut Crisis: How Diet, Probiotics, and Friendly Bacteria Help You Lose Weight and Heal Your Body and Mind. Dharma Publications, 2017.
Author: Samantha & Keith Wallace
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina