Oh, did I lie about you behind your back? Sorry ’bout that.
Slander your family name? Curse your children’s lineage? My bad.
Expose your insecurities? Ridicule your flaws? Mock your existence? Sorry you took that the wrong way.
Lighten up. Didn’t mean it. Just kidding.
I’m sorry you got your feelings hurt.
Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, SORRY.
I’m sorry you are so weak, touchy, and insecure that my clearly innocuous faux-paux rubbed you the wrong way. K? Feel better, now?
Why are we humans so bad at asking forgiveness? I mean, we should probably take hints from other species. Cats at least purr and rub up against your leg after they’ve pooped in your pantry. Yet they have pea-cluster brains and scratching posts. Or dogs. They drop their heads between their legs and slink into a corner. Tail under. Now that’s some guilt. Except the dumb ones who drool, wag their tails, and stare back.
Can you imagine the depravity that pervades our race for me to insinuate that we invite these creatures over for a light lunch of canned tuna, fur balls, and could you explain to us how to ask forgiveness please?
We could’ve been blessed to be any number of these humbler, less intellectually-endowed, yet infinitely wiser species.
But no, we had to be HUMANS. We’re cursed to care more about maximizing the carnage of our prey’s emotional suffering than ordering up one single serving slice of my-fault pizza with a topping of I’m a lying stinking awful ugly jerk.
Oops, did I offend you while saying that? Sorry you got your feelings hurt. Now can we move on?
Did you catch that? You got your feelings hurt. Like you made a bad gamble and lost everything in a poorly chosen stock option. Like some poor idiot no one will actually feel sorry for, though everyone says it. Only thing is your gamble was on a person being able to top the moral capacity of a cat.
And I really think the reason we can’t rise to the moral turpitude of mammals that lick their own rears is that we want to come out on top. Plain and simple. We know enough to avoid the basics that they just can’t conceptualize — say please and thank you, don’t wash your genitals with your tongue, and win at all costs.
The problem is, this intellectual advantage is our bane. The desire to win in the face of another’s accusations, anger, or hurt — no matter what the cost — makes us all inevitably lose.
And after scores of divorces, broken relationships, permanent separations, tears, broken hearts, and head-scratching fault denials, we haven’t learned the simple skill set of tucking tail, taking it on the nose, and burying old bones for good.
While the neighborhood dog is still strutting ’round the pound and owning the town.
So I’m going to apply a few less developed brain cells to tell you exactly how to trace back to your feral roots, how to ask forgiveness, AND how to come out on top.
It’s all possible and this is exactly how to do it. There are few times I say there’s one right way to do something and that I can guarantee it will improve your relationships. This is one of ’em.
Most of this I learned around the pound from an old dog with a few tricks, so you can trust it.
How to Ask Forgiveness and Still Come Out on Top
1. Start — “Please forgive me…” NOT “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry is pathetic. Sorry (there it is), it just is. Sorry is for little things. Kicked your toe when I wasn’t watching where I was going? “Sorry.” Perfectly appropriate. Stabbed you in the back and twisted it while you lay bleeding? Sorry isn’t going to cut it (<—ha). It’s not enough for major hurts. Please forgive me implies guilt, weight of sin, responsibility, and repentance. There’s nothing flippant about it, and that’s exactly how you want to start off repairing a relationship you actually want to, urm, keep longer than a dog year.
2. Continue — “for… [STATE EVERY SPECIFIC WRONG, YOU SQUIRMING, RESPONSIBILITY-AVOIDING BIPED]”
“For hurting your feelings” doesn’t count. “For everything I said” doesn’t count. “For being insensitive” is, well, closer, but just say what you did, make it sound serious like you mean it, and don’t try to get away with vagueness. Glossing over it doesn’t validate anyone’s hurt. It doesn’t actually achieve the goal of true reconciliation. It smooths over what you’ve done, which makes you feel nice, without you having to bear the full weight of it. But the problem is they still bear it until you’ve taken it off them. That’s your responsibility, sophisticated two-foot upright walker, so take responsibility and say it.
3. Use paragraph form, NOT sentence form. Add a commitment to change.
If you’re gonna do this right, you have to add extra words about understanding how the other person feels AND replace negative things you said or that they felt with the truth.
“I can see how you would feel hurt by me saying [bla bla]. I was upset, but please forgive me for taking it out on you. I realize it’s not your fault. A lot of [bla bla] is my fault. You are an awesome [spouse] and I am so thankful for [specifics]. I won’t take it out on you anymore. I love you so much, baby.”
That’s validation. Paragraph form. A commitment to change. “I’ll try” is dog excrement. It says you won’t change. True repentance comes with a full turn, not a shout-out in the right direction.
4. “I forgive you.”
This is the requirement of the wounded. “It’s okay,” well, isn’t. It wasn’t okay, and it won’t be if it happens again. But it is forgiven. So let the feelings go completely. But the secret to this is it is infinitely easier to let it go when numbers 2 and 3 have been done completely. What’s left to hold onto if it’s all been validated and talked through?
Review — “Please forgive me for [all specific wrongs].” Validate. “I forgive you.”
(For more, see my post on How to Turn Your Spouse From a Fire-Breathing, Evil Monster Into a Regular Person.)
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I didn’t come out on top. I just got dragged through the mud on a leash by the friggin’ neck.”
Well, sorry buddy, but that’s exactly how you come out on top. What did you think this was, a Fussball tournament? This is a relationship. There aren’t prizes for thumbing the losing team from the victory stand. Tuck your tail. Ask forgiveness like a, well, man’s best friend, and perhaps you’ll find yourself on a victory stand in the end, after all.
Or if that’s too hard, just drool, wag your tail, and stare back.