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When Do You Apologize?

My husband is generally a caring and compassionate man, but when we get in an argument he never admits fault or apologizes. It’s like it’s not in him. I know this is the pattern in his family too. When the argument is over, he goes about his day, no grudges held, but no sorry either. I might err on the side of apologizing too much, but part of the reason for that is that I hate conflict and want it to be resolved as soon as possible. Otherwise, I internalize it and fume. So, no apology from him equals me fuming for days, while he’s moved on.

He Said: I lived on the East Coast for a few years and was shocked to see friends, family members and coworkers argue intensely one day and be over it the next with no thought of apology. At first I suspected the area was packed with maniacs till I moved back here and realized I had adopted some of their appetite for conflict. Many people on the west coast then struck me as overly sensitive. What was resolved by a fight and a night’s sleep in NY City required a trip to the therapist in San Francisco.

Before your husband can be sorry, he needs to know you are hurt. Since he’s a compassionate man, find a clear way to let him know when a conflict is upsetting you. You might also sometimes engage him in a conflict about an issue that isn’t critical just to get more practice in arguing over something that is easier to let go of. Regardless of your approach, internal fuming isn’t effective or healthy. If you don’t find a way to diffuse these conflicts as they come up, one day you may unload your past grievances in one explosive session. Great for a Tennessee Williams’ play, not so good for a marriage.

She Said: Hmmm. I wonder how many fights you construe as his “fault,” or anyone’s “fault” for that matter. I don’t see marital arguments or conflicts as requiring an apology. On the contrary, they are par for the course when two healthy, developed adults are attempting to cohabitate, raise children, keep the house clean, earn money, and each develop their own meaningful lives while also attempting to stay connected with each other, communicate, have good sex, and all that stuff married people do. Till death do them part, no less.

You get my point. Fights will happen. The only thing that warrants an apology is if he yells loudly (enough to scare you or any kids in the room), says something intentionally mean, lies, cheats, or neglects to do something he said he would do. The next time any of those things happen, when you find yourself stewing afterward, go up to him, put your hand on his arm and calmly say, “It hurt me last night when you _____. I’d feel a lot better if you’d say you’re sorry. I tend to fume after an argument unless there’s some kind of closure.” Hopefully he’ll do it, and then you say, “Thanks, apology accepted,” and let it go. When you’ve done anything from the above list, apologize yourself--but when you haven’t, refrain from doing so. Because I think this entire issue hinges on your discomfort with conflict. Get used to the idea that discomfort and conflict are no one’s fault, and stop trying to give and get apologies as some kind of verbal Band-Aid to cover an existential dilemma (you are two different people and you will disagree) that you should accept, not deny.

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