Elton John had it right when he sang ” ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word”. I believe there are many divorces that get held up and go sideways because one or both spouses refuses to offer up a simple, yet heartfelt apology.Why do divorcing people find it so hard to simply apologize and how would a simple apology help the divorce transition to go more smoothly?
The gift of a simple apology would first require that the person who is withholding one begin to see their soon-to-be-ex as a person, rather than an object. People ‘objectify’ another when they need to see themselves as justified in their own unconstrained anger and resentment. They are usually unaware that this type of “blanket” anger only serves to cover guilt and shame that he/she is truly feeling regarding some behavior they got into that was detrimental to the marriage.
The most obvious example of this dynamic would be the extra-marital affair that we so commonly see as a precursor to divorce. The offending spouse will often try to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why he/she is justified in the decision to take up with someone else. “I didn’t get enough sex.”; “This other person was kinder to me;” “I never felt like I was a priority to you”, are some of the typical justifications we hear about extra-marital affairs.
While we understand that an affair is a symptom of some deeper, unaddressed ongoing conflict in a marriage; the decision to engage in one is the responsibility of the one who has it. When the spouse who strayed is coached to offer up a simple apology for stepping out of the marriage, a barrier for healthy, ongoing communication can be quickly broken and the divorcing couple can more readily get on with the business at hand.
Offering up an apology is obviously helpful to the spouse who feels offended; but more importantly, it is liberating to the spouse who committed the offense. Wouldn’t it be better for the offending spouse to simply apologize, directly address the guilt and then release its burden? Repressed feelings like guilt and shame are frequently concealed by rage, arrogance, depression and defensiveness. These cover-ups can hold the couple hostage in a stalled divorce that continues to rub salt in wounds that deserve to heal, scar over and eventually fade away.
There are many paths to forgiveness. One road has a simple apology at its gateway. When this applies to a divorce you are working on, help your client to consider a simple apology. The effect of offering one can be incredibly sophisticated in its ability to promote conflict resolution so that the healing can begin.