You already know that while apologizing, it's a good call to do this, this, this, even this. But the last step of an apology is really key in cementing all your thoughtful work in repairing the trust that was either scratched, dented or totaled. Step 6: Allow the other person to remain upset after hearing the apology.
This is a tough step. Why? Because by this point, you've sincerely apologized. Not only that, but you've:
- thoughtfully considered what exactly was so hurtful for the other person
- listened compassionately and validated their feelings
- specified how you'll change your behavior in the future to avoid similar misunderstandings
- offered ways to salve the main hurt
- been warm, open, disarming, honest and vulnerable.
You're so self-aware that you're bordering guru-status. Now that the hard work is done, you might be expecting a set of outstretched arms and a big, warm, fuzzy hug.
Just a heads up, that might not happen.
Sometimes it takes a while for an apology to set in. Expecting an immediate positive reaction from the other person is a massive set up. Holding an expectation that the other person will automatically accept your apology is the one thing you should never do while apologizing.
If you don't get an immediate positive reaction (which is normal when big issues are on the table) it sets you up for feeling like you've failed and that there's nothing you can do to fix it. There's a natural reaction from the "apologizer" when they don't get that big, warm, fuzzy hug.
The reaction goes something like this: "Forget it,” or the ever popular, “This was stupid," followed by the impulse to give up on trying to reach resolution.
The person who is being apologized to then grabs a hold of those dismissive sound-bites and runs wild with them. Things get messy, again.
Don't allow a sense of defeat to take over just because someone didn't immediately receive your apology. Allow the apology to digest. Wonderful apologies are often followed by not-so-wonderful responses, and though that's not ideal, it's fine. Say something like, "I don't expect me saying any of this to immediately make you feel better, still, it's important to me that you hear it. I understand this will all take time."
Brace yourself for....nothing. Or more anger, or more tears, or for the person who is hurt to repeat stuff you've already heard a million times--you get the point. Accepting an apology is typically a process, not an event. Allowing that process to unfold is yet another way that you can demonstrate your sincere regret in either your behavior, how your behavior made another person feel, or both.
All that said, at a certain point enough is enough. If you've genuinely apologized (and are proud of the thoughtfulness, level of care and vulnerability in your apology) and the other person continues to rehash the past in a punitive and closed-off way, your patience may begin to take on a level of emotional masochism that you don't deserve. You may need to bring in the reinforcements to help you in your decision of what to do next. This talented couples counselor also works with feuding family members to rebuild connection and restore peace, and though she's based in LA, she uses Skype to connect with people across the nation. Alternatively, you might consider using this therapist locator to connect with your own private therapist if you continue to feel stuck in a loop. Keep reaching for multiple perspectives, and at some point, one will resonate with you more than the others, and you'll know what to do.