Q: You keep telling us to Speak Our Voices, but whenever I tell my husband what’s on my mind, he justifies his actions. He seems genetically incapable of saying, “I’m sorry.” Is there a way to milk an apology out of this man? — Desperately Seeking a Sorry
Dear Desperately Seeking a Sorry:
I hear you. I used to have the same problem. Fights between me and my husband used to go something like this:
Me: I’m really frustrated that you sat indoors all day watching TV when the grass is so high that the poor dog keeps accidentally stepping on his own poop.
Him: I didn’t watch TV all day.
Me: Yes you did. I saw you do it.
Him: The grass isn’t that high.
Me: The neighbors are going to complain to the borough any minute now. I just lost our daughter out there. The police are currently searching for her, and they are using machetes to cut through the grass.
Him: I can cut it tomorrow.
Me: You are in Las Vegas tomorrow, and why do you have to be so difficult?
Him: You know, the strangest thing happened the other day….
Me: Don’t change the subject.
Him: Look over there…
All I wanted was an, “I’m sorry. I screwed up. You’re right. I’m a lazy slacker.” Instead I got one justification after another for why he wasn’t at fault, and when the justifications failed and the tension rose, he tried to change the subject.
My husband and I still occasionally have such arguments but, truth be told, the situation has somehow reversed itself. Now he’s the one who is after an “I’m sorry” and I’m the greedy person who won’t cough up the words. I believe everything in life happens for a reason. The reasons I’m not sorry are:
1. It gives me something to blog about.
2. It helps me understand my husband that much more.
Neither justifies not saying the words, though. I just felt the need to tell you, so you would continue to find me endearing and lovable.
Anyway, the point is that I now understand that my husband wasn’t necessarily trying to annoy me. He wasn’t even doing it because he didn’t think he was at fault. He was doing it because he’s a competitive person, and so am I. One of his life mantras is, “Second is the first loser.” Seriously. He truly believes this.
So it makes sense that he’d have a hard time admitting defeat, especially when he has a wife who is willing to fight until the very bitter end because she can’t admit defeat, either. (Not to mention the fact that his wife is almost always right, but I digress, yet again).
Still, he has learned to apologize. To get your spouse to do the same, you first need to understand why he hates to say those words. Chances are, he avoids saying, “I’m sorry” for one of the following reasons:
- He thinks he can truly convince you that he is right and you are wrong, and he doesn’t realize that this thinking is completely delusional.
- He thinks that, by changing the subject, you will experience a momnesia moment and forget what you were talking about in the first place. Again, he doesn’t realize that his tactics will instead cause you to have a momnesia moment when you are trying to remember why you married him in the first place.
- Saying “I’m sorry” makes him feel weak. He doesn’t realize that true human strength lies in the ability to admit ones shortcomings.
I recommend having a conversation about his inability to apologize. Bring it up when you are both calm. In other words, the time to have this conversation is NOT when you are fighting about something else and you realize you want him to say, “I’m sorry.” You need to have the conversation at a time when you are not after an apology.
When you talk, you might say, “Honey, have you ever noticed that you rarely tell me that you are sorry?”
He’ll probably say something like, “I tell you that I’m sorry.” You’ll say, “No you don’t.” And then you will be off on your cycle. Wait for the right moment, the one that will cause you both to laugh at your folly. At the right moment, after you’ve both done your “No you don’t” and “Yes I do” thing for a while, say, “Well, I’d like you to tell me that you are sorry for not telling me you are sorry. Can you do that? Right now?” See what happens.
This, by the way, is just an icebreaker. It’s a way to ease yourself into a sticky discussion with a bit of humor. At some point state exactly how you feel about his refusal to apologize. You might say any or all of the following:
* When you change the topic when I’m trying to discuss something, it makes me feel as if you think I’m stupid or that you think my feelings are not important.
* When you justify your actions instead of apologizing, I get even more frustrated. Then our arguments last even longer.
Then, end with a question, “Why do you think you have such a hard time apologizing?” If he’s a strong and silent type like my guy, he’ll probably say something philosophical like, “Dunno.”
In the future, when you confront your husband, you’ll get to Sorry more quickly if you:
- Confront him while you are doing something else. People feel less threatened when they are not making eye contact. Talk while in the car or while walking. If he doesn’t realize you are confronting him, he’ll be a lot more likely to have a conversation with you rather than shut down and battle you.
- Maintain your happy voice. If you state how you feel in the same tone of voice you use to talk about your day, his “danger” mechanism might not engage.
- Answer his attempts to battle you or change the subject with simple questions: Why are you trying to justify your actions? Why are you changing the subject? Why can’t you just apologize?
Note: All of the advice here applies to women, too. If your wife refuses to say she’s sorry, try it and see.
Do you have advice for Desperately Seeking a Sorry? Leave a comment.
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A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.