The Long Road Back: Making Amends for Bad Behavior
Everyone makes mistakes. It is an old cliché but completely true for all of us.
When dealing with a spouse or partner, however, the question becomes how bad of a mistake has been made and whether the person who made it is ready to address it and the impact it has made on their partner.
Mistakes can be made at any level and run the spectrum of severity. They can range from forgetting a birthday or anniversary to full on deception. Whatever level you may have transgressed, if you want to be accepted back again or even forgiven, you must make amends.
You likely will not be forgiven quickly enough. You probably know that.
So you may find yourself apologizing too much, saying over and over again how sorry you are, only to find that that strategy does little to mend much between you.
Often the realization of how deeply you’ve wounded your partner may be why you find yourself worrying intensely about ever being accepted back again or forgiven.
The truth remains the same. You need to make genuine amends, and you need to start right away.
Even if you know it could be difficult. Even if you know it could be a long time before the effects of your bad behavior fade for those you’ve hurt.
So how exactly do you make amends responsibly, respectfully and in the sincerest way possible?
Here are some things to keep in mind as you aim to repair your relationship.
Amends are not optional.
Making amends is a crucial part of maintaining and repairing human connections that have been compromised by bad behavior.
If you’ve broken trust or wounded someone else, attempting to make amends must reflect clear comprehension of the transgression. Why say you’re sorry if you don’t know why you should?
Even if the object of your amends minimizes your efforts or is too angry to accept your apology, do what you can to right your wrong. Clearly stating that you realize what you did was hurtful and worthy of acknowledgment and repair is vital.
Understand that your amends is a means of opening the door for the possible rehabilitation of your relationship and closure to an issue that you have created.
You are communicating that you know the person who was hurt by your behavior is worthy of safety, dignity, respect and decency in your presence. Admitting that your failure to provide such treatment is a mistake worth correcting can go a long way.
Stay on your side of the street.
Amends are more than being sorry. They are about actively accepting responsibility for your bad behavior.
Whatever you believe is the other person’s participation or involvement in your relationship breakdown, demonstrate that you can address your own gaffes or failures openly. The better you are able to do this without blame or attempts to deflect attention from your bad behavior, the more positive the impact on the situation and sincere your apology will come across.
Don’t apologize to secure a particular response or end result.
You are taking this road because it’s the better course. Not because it’s an easy shortcut to goodwill or will necessarily lead quickly to your desired result.
The person you’re apologizing to has a right to their own response. However, if you’re truly interested in making amends, you should realize that the relationship is worth your effort, compassion and patience.
Making amends isn’t about your ability to apologize well, but whether you behave differently going forward.
The long road back to goodwill, trust and reconciliation is often long because proving your willingness to change cannot happen without careful, daily steps toward the one you’ve wronged. These diligent, intentional efforts reveal your ability to be honest, respectful, humble and self-controlled over time.
Remember too that amends reveal that you are more than your bad behavior or decisions.
Amends make it clear that you recognize and accept your part in doing harm. But it also reminds you and the parties involved that you don’t have to be defined by that pain.
Sincere amends can foster a new start in a relationship.
Do what it takes to show that you are sorry. Be willing to soothe the pain you caused and be reliably available to settle any debts (emotional or otherwise) the best way you can.
Your willingness to take this on, rather than hide or dismiss your own behavior, reveals character and growth beyond those mistakes.
Making amends amounts to making strides towards being a better person– for you and the person you hurt. Then you can both move on to some form of closure with your humanity and dignity affirmed.
About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, careers, and intimacy. He also specializes in treating addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work-life balance.