Imagine this: Your spouse ate the rest of the lasagna you had planned to serve for leftovers tonight. Now there's no dinner and everyone is hungry and crabby. When you fume about it, he says dismissively, "My bad."
How's that for an apology?
Do you feel any better?
It wasn't sincere and it certainly didn't own up to his carelessness. And it doesn't put dinner on the table.
Saying "My bad" or a simple " I'm sorry" may be fine for small, inconsequential mistakes - if delivered with sincerity. However, these superficial expressions can easily get the offender off the hook without really feeling how their actions hurt others.
Real apologies are made up of more than a couple of casual worlds. They should signal change and should be acknowledged by those who were hurt. The secret to happy couples and family members is not that they are mistake free; they just know how to correctly apologize.
Happy relationships also use four special ingredients in all their apologies. These ingredients create that "secret sauce" that turn a simple "I'm sorry" into a true apology:
This is where you look the person in the eye and with real intent say, "I'm sorry" or "I apologize". Don't look away until they believe you really mean it. In your apology, the level of hurt you caused should be matched with the same level of sincerity.
"That was my fault. I should never have said those mean words and yelled at you." Period. Stop right there. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to start apologizing for the right things, but then go on to make excuses.
It sounds something like this: "I'm sorry I ate the lasagna but I bought it in the first place so I should be able to eat whatever I want." You can see how the "sorry" part of this was obliterated by every thing stated after the "but". When we qualify, deflect or excuse our behavior, it makes the apology completely useless.
Acknowledge the result of your mistake
"I really hurt your feelings and I feel terrible about that. I made a mess of things." State the impact of what you did so you can truly begin to change. This type of apology also lets the other person accept what you are saying because you've validated their feelings. You understand what you did. You are humble and brave enough to see through your loved one's eyes.
It would be natural right about here to ask, "Will you forgive me?" True, if you have followed the steps to this point, you could expect the other person to show mercy. Asking for forgiveness is a way to have closure and start the reconciliation process. That being said, apologizing should not be conditional. It should be offered with an open heart, free of any expectations that the other person will accept it.
Jesus said to forgive the offender seventy times seven times. I'm all for that but I believe he also wanted the offender to learn from his mistakes and make progress toward improvement. I doubt he was asking husbands to excuse their wives day after day for overspending just because she says, "I'm sorry" every time.
If you are truly sorry, that means you truly don't want to cause pain and problems again. Part of a real apology should be an action plan for how you will make an effort to do better. "I am going to work on this by...Will you help me?" If you were the thoughtless person who ate the leftover lasagna, this is where you would say, "To show you how sorry I am, I am going to whip up some burritos right now. You just relax and I'll take care of it."
Enjoy eating your burritos, lasagna or whatever you're having for dinner tonight with your spouse and be sure to keep plenty of secret "apology sauce" on hand.
JULIE K. NELSON is a mother, wife, professor, author of "Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood" and "Parenting With Spiritual Power," and is a contributor on radio and TV. Her website is www.aspoonfulofparenting.com.