“I’m sorry.” How do you say it?

“I’m sorry.”

Do you take this phrase for granted or are you dying to hear it from the lips of someone you share your life with?

I was greatly distressed that these words were missing from the vocabulary of someone close to me. After listening to me whine about it (multiple times), a wise woman asked me a few questions:

  • Are you responsible for changing someone else’s behavior?
  • Do you know when the other person is sorry? If so, how can you tell?
  • If you need to hear the words (if the actions are not enough), say them out loud to yourself. When you see a particular response and know that is an attempt at reconciliation, say out loud, “So and so is saying they are sorry.”

I tried it and was surprised at its success. Why did it work? Did physically hearing the words make that much of a difference?

Years later I’m even more impressed with the wisdom of my advice-giver. She could have said, “Get over yourself. You can see a response that shows regret, why are you so insistent on having your way?” My strong human trait–the-best-defense-is-a-good-offence–might have kicked in, and I would have missed the point. She avoided that by acknowledging the legitimacy of my need and suggesting a way that it could be fulfilled even if the words were never uttered by my non-verbal friend. I could effect the change without insisting that someone else comply.

Following her advice precipitated an attitude change in me. Rather than insisting that my methodology was right and therefore should be followed, I allowed another person their own way to express regrets and reconciliation. Instead of focusing on me and my ego, I looked at the other person–and I received the confirmation that I needed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t important, that my views or feelings didn’t matter.

“I’m sorry” was being spoken to me. I just had to learn the language. Our relationship is still going strong.

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