What Can One Person Alone Do to Improve Relationships?
By Mary Kay Turner
If a person gets caught in a conflict in which the other disputant refuses to discuss issues, minimal interaction may be adequate in a casual friendship. However, in a close relationship, the lack of honest sharing because of underlying discord can make life difficult. So what can one do in such a dilemma?
Harriet Lerner, who has a PhD. in psychology, wrote Why Won’t You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts and other books about relationships. She suggests that apologizing may help restore the relationship. It may be embarrassing to make an apology, for example, if a person forgot to return something borrowed. A reminder from the owner months later would likely at least bring return of the borrowed item; however, it is better to take responsibility for behavior, admit to being inconsiderate, and speak or write an apology for any inconvenience.
Usually one sincere apology is enough for a misstep, and overapologizing, saying “I’m sorry” repeatedly, can be irritating and disruptive to relationships. A person might accidently break or stain something, and feel that all is well if the “I”m sorry” is met with “No problem.” In this case it would be better to also offer to pay to clean, repair, or replace the item.
It may be tempting to say, “I’m sorry, but it’s hard for me to resist correcting inaccurate statements,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It would be better to be accountable for the action or words and say, “I was out of line with that …., and it will not happen again.” It is necessary to follow through on that to maintain the relationship .
It is important to remember that you can control only your reactions and feelings, not those of anyone else. Being late for an event important to a someone close to you and saying “I’m sorry; please forgive me” puts additional burden on the person who was hurt. It would be better to acknowledge that the anger is reasonable and realize that patience may be needed to repair the relationship.
A major betrayal, as in a marriage, would require much more than a simple “I’m sorry.” It would be necessary for the one who neglected the promises to listen with an open heart as the injured person expresses the pain and effects of the deception, and to be willing to share that pain and accept consequences in order to heal the relationship.
When someone offers an apology, the best way to accept it is to say, “Thank you for the apology.” If feeling hurt, it would be better to just accept the apology then and possibly talk about the hurt later.
Another way to deal with a resistant disputant is to use Conflict Coaching, a service provided by Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC). The person explains the conflict to the Conflict Coach, who listens and helps the person find ways to work with the adversary and deal with uneasy feelings.
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