Real love means learning how to say 'I'm sorry'

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Dear Mom:

Sometimes I think life would be a lot easier if people in my family knew how to apologize. Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of good times together and are there for each other, but it seems like whenever we run up against any little conflicts, we crumble immediately. I don't understand it.

The problem is something I observe more easily in others than in myself -- it seems to happen with my 14-year-old daughter and her dad. I know they love each other, but it seems as if they have no ability to address any conflict between them -- most irritations go unspoken and are smoothed over by time and life's inevitable distraction. Pushing things under the rug would be fine if it worked ... but the other day after one of their spats, my daughter was so upset. She probably had the right to be upset, because her dad was belittling her, (he honestly doesn't know that calling someone "the peanut gallery" is belittling).

She had tried in a nice way to ask him not to put her in a box like that, but he couldn't hear her and gave her a huffy "I'm sorry" and then left the room. She was seething and I tried to explain to her that dad is a good dad, he really is, he'll do anything for her, but for whatever reason he's just not that great at saying he's sorry. Then she said, "well, that's too bad, because it's probably the most important thing to be good at, Mom, it's like the glue that holds everything together." I need help here.

If there is some art or science to saying I'm sorry I need to know it.

-- Sincerely Sorry Mom



Dear Sincerely Sorry Mom:

You are so right on. Life is easier when people know how to apologize. Not knowing how to repair the damage we do in relationships puts us at risk of not having relationships at all. And the truth is, we all do hurt each other, not because we are bad people, but because we can never truly know the heart of another.

Many avoid apologizing because they mistakenly believe that hurting others means they are bad in some way. But it is a given we will sooner or later wound those we love the most. Because of this eventuality, it is critical we all learn the art of patching things up.

The good news is, the better we become at saying we're sorry, the stronger our relationships become. There is strength in flexibility, in knowing we can bend without breaking.

A good apology requires a number of things, but these are the most important: A detailed account of the situation, acknowledgement of the offense and taking responsibility for it. Next comes recognition of your role in the event and a statement of regret, such as "I'm sorry I made you feel small." In the end we ask for forgiveness and promise to try not to repeat the offense. Then we top off the apology by offering some sort of amends to show we mean business.

Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to catherinehicks@wwub.com. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.

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