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When "Sorry" is not Enough

Updated on July 8, 2008

When the Problem goes way beyond "Sorry"

Ever screw up so badly that you didn't feel like you could ever get things back to the way they were? There are times when we mess up so badly with our spouse, friend, or some other relationship that major steps are going to have to be taken in order to make the relationship whole again. A simple apology just won't do. A quick fix is not in order at that moment. There just is no easy way to dealing with the problem, and it will never be able to be smoothed over.

I want to help you discover ways to repair a relationship problem that is so deep that you'll have to do much more than apologize.

Signs of a big mess up

There are times that we simply mess things up in a major way. What are the signs that we need to make a major repair rather than offer a simple apology?

1. You just know

I have had many occasions with my wife, friends, or other relationships where I did something that caused a problem in the relationship. I knew that an apology was not going to cut it. In fact, I felt such a sense of guilt that I didn't want to see that person. When they were around, I couldn't look at them and didn't want to talk to them. There are occasions when you just know inside that if you offer an apology that you are only inviting wrath from that person.

2. Body language

The other person will let you know how bad you messed up with body language. They may turn the other way when they see you. Facial expressions are another way to recognize a definite problem. Too, they may sit with you and talk, but their crossed arms, sarcastic tone, and the way they sit will let you know that you are in trouble.

3. Lack of communication

A big sign that you went in a very wrong direction is that the other person will not talk to you. Any apology or attempt to reconcile is met with coldness. You realize that you are going to have to take serious steps in order to reconcile with them. When they won't talk to you, instead of seeing it as them being wrong in their reaction, realize that they feel deeply wounded, just as you do when you are wronged.

4. Words

The things they say to you will indicate when you have hurt them in a big way. They may be sarcastic, resentful, biting, or otherwise angry in their words and tone of voice. At this point you have a decision to make. Are you going to react with your own angry words or will you humble yourself to repair what you broke?

How to reconcile in a tough situation

So, now that you have discovered that an apology will have no effect on the problem at hand (it may make it worse), how do you repair the problem in the relationship?

1. Step back

At times, it is very wise to step back and analyze the situation. Men especially are prone to want an immediate fix to the problem so that there is peace again. But quick fixes just will not do in certain situations. Step back and determine what the real problem is, where you went wrong, and what steps need to be taken to deal with the problem. If it is appropriate, seek counsel on what to do. Too, look at the context of the problem to determine why the other person was so hurt. Did you touch a sensitive nerve? Were you just being insensitive? Did they have a tough day? Is there some other factor that is adding to their hurt?

2. Take the blame

In order to open the lines of communication you need to let them know that you messed up and are taking the blame. Don't force them to share the blame. Take the full blame, and let them know how hurt you are over what you did to them.

3. Express genuine sorrow

Express how sorry you are over how you hurt that person. Be genuine. They will know if you are faking it. If you really are feeling pain over the situation, let them know. This goes a long way in making things right.

4. Ask them how you can make it right

Don't just tell them how you will make things right with them. Ask them what they want from you. This will allow you to really hear from them what they are thinking, and understand why they feel the way they do.

5. Listen with interest

Don't control or manipulate the conversation. Listen to them. Hear them out all the way. Even if they are wrong in some of their remarks, avoid the temptation to correct them in order to defend yourself. You will need to bite the bullet and humbly accept that you were wrong if you truly want peace with that person again.

6. Take the time necessary to heal

In certain situations where trust has been violated or the damage is deep, you will have to allow enough time for the relationship to heal. It may take days, months, or even years. You need to determine if the relationship is worth it. Are you willing to take the hard road so that you can have a great relationship with that person again?

7. Learn from the experience.

There is nothing that bugs me more than when I repeat a mistake. A major way of reconciling after a major mess up in a relationship is to not repeat what you did. Since we are human this is not always possible. We may very well repeat the mistake. If you do, make sure it isn't because you are careless, but because you are just having a genuine struggle. If you do repeat the mistake, ask the other person to help you overcome the struggle. This will let them know that you are serious about making things right.

This is a short analysis and a short list of how to deal with situations in which an apology is not enough. However, if you will apply the steps listed, you will make a lot of head way in reconciling with the people who are so important to you.

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