A Bad Case of the “But I’m Just Trying To’s”

September 19th, 2011

Today my husband was trying to help me but something he kept doing kept bothering me. I would say, “Please don’t do it like that. Can you do it this way instead?” I said it a few times over and over and then realized he was getting a little flustered. I thought that maybe I hurt his feelings so I said to him, “I’m sorry. But I was just communicating like we’re supposed to!”

Then I noticed something about myself. How many times do I apologize to my husband but end up saying some excuse instead? Answer: very often!

How can an apology be meaningful and heartfelt when it is covered up with an excuse for our behavior? When we say, “I’m sorry, but,” are we really feeling apologetic for our actions? And more importantly, are our spouses feeling like we truly care when we apologize?

Telling your partner “I’m sorry” isn’t just about those words. It’s about recognizing your mistakes and humbling yourself enough to feel the remorse behind the words.

Here are a few things I have realized I need to work on that will help my apologies be more meaningful. Unless you are perfect, I’m sure these tips could help you too!

  1. Don’t make excuses or justifications for your behavior (i.e. “But I just”). Even if you had every right to be upset, trying to prove your point will not help solve the argument.
  2. Show appropriate body language. Nothing ruins an apology more than folded arms, cold stature, and hard stares. This just shows you really aren’t sorry and are just using the apology to help fuel the argument.
  3. State clearly what you are sorry for. A blanket apology isn’t going to work for everything. And expressing specifically what you are sorry for shows your partner that you truly do care and are listening to their concerns.
  4. Don’t expect them to apologize back. If you truly are repentant and sorry, then your apology should reflect how you are feeling. Don’t use your apology as leverage to get something back from your partner.
  5. Don’t let the feelings fester before you finally say “I’m sorry.” The sooner, the better.  One quote I really like is, “If you feel like you probably owe your spouse an apology, don’t put it off. Apologize right away.”

It is important to remember that there is a difference between justification and explaining your emotions and behavior to your partner. During disagreements, it is important to understand where each person is coming from and reasons behind their actions. This is not to say that you make excuses for your behaviors, but instead you are helping your partner understand your thought process that led you to be upset.

One main difference between explaining and excuses is that you are owning up to your actions and the fact that they hurt your partner. If you were making excuses, you would blame outside sources for making you upset and thus saying it wasn’t really your fault. (See post: Taking Responsibility).

A way you can avoid balancing between the fine line of explanations and justifications is to start your apology by saying, “I’m sorry for ________. The reason why I got upset was _______ but I know that doesn’t excuse my behavior.” This simple phrase shows remorse and humility for your actions while also trying to shed light on your point of view.

After you properly apologize, it is also important to express your determination to try better next time. Of course, we are not all perfect (though you may think so) and we may falter again. But relationships thrive on working together to become better people. So do your part to keep your relationship healthy by working hard to not make the same mistakes.