I cleaned up my bookshelf and found a letter that I have never sent. I wrote it to someone who was once special in my life. Our break was nothing like the petty, go, gossipy fights I had in childhood, or even the slow drifting apart so common in adulthood. Instead, it was worse and happened one day, sudden as a lightning strike with mean messages and phone calls. I heard the thunder from miles away. I recently asked a friend if I should send the letter, or at least a text, some kind of signal that the door was still a bit open on my end, that I wanted to talk things through because there is a child involved. I wanted to make things right or at least get some closure other than the divorce papers.
This person, once special, does certain things that make no sense to me. To send this letter wouldn’t be wise because it is not my job anymore to appeal his decisions. It is job of the agencies now. There is no need to put more compassionate words in my mouth, trying to make it all work out differently or better for my son’s sake. But that does not mean that I have not spent time playing the ending back in my head, trying to see our disagreement from his point of view, trying to make sense why he acts this way.
Each of us may require different words and actions to heal when we have been wronged. For me, understanding the language of love and trust in a relationship is crucial to keep it healthy, and to know how best to apologize is just as important. By no means do I want to repair my previous relationship but for my son, I would take the extra step to repair it to the point that we can at least talk in a civilized matter about important things like for example how to be in touch with your own flesh and blood. Common sense is not so common for some, so I will give you some hints and help if you want to express regret, apologize, accept responsibility, make restitution or genuinely repent something. I think that a sincere apology will contain more than one of these options, so it can be helpful to gain “fluency” in at least a few. Do not be an emotional polyglot.
Expressing regret. What do you think is the first apology language I will mention? Right! The words: I am sorry. It may seem, at first glance, too rudimentary to qualify as a language, but the impact of a simple, direct apology should not be underestimated. Sometimes, saying sorry is easy, sometimes it is not. In some situations, an apology like this is all that is needed but in other cases, some explanations need to be added.
How to say it: “…..I need to apologize for the way I ignored my son for so long. I would love to change things because I love and miss him. I feel guilty every single day, too.”
Accepting Responsibility. I think it is important for the apologizer to directly acknowledge the impact their actions and words have had on the person they have wronged, rather than making a slew of excuses or blaming circumstances. The key is to make sure the burden of apology stays with the one who is apologizing. It is easy to create even more distance with phrases like, “I am sorry you feel that way” when what really needs to be said is, “I am sorry I made you feel this way”.
How to say it: “….I am sorry I reported you to Immigration Canada for forging my signature. I know you did not forge anything. I am also sorry that I reported you to Canadian Child Services. I know you are not a bad mother and would never hurt, starve, beat, or leave a child. I know I should not have done that. I am sorry I made you feel this way and that you had to go through all this trouble. Damn, I didn’t know he lost his Canadian passport because of my actions!”
Making Restitution. Restitution can be a little more complicated I guess, especially since it often involves placing a relative value on something after it has been damaged. In my case, I am not talking about a borrowed dress ruined by melted lipstick in the dryer but rather trust broken by an affair and not taking care of a child. Then it gets more complicated. Match the scale of the apology to the original mistake. It is important to note that in some cases, it is not actually possible to completely rebalance the scale, or that making good on the promise to do so can take time. However, on my end, there is no substitute for a good faith effort to repair and rebuild.
How to say it: “……thank you for taking care of him for so long without any help from my side. I am really sorry I did this. He is my flesh and blood, too. I miss him so much and would love to see him, speak to him and be in touch. I am sorry that I haven’t contacted him in almost two years. I am sorry that I rather spent the money to travel and enjoy my life. I know he needs clothing and food because kids grow so fast. I was wrong. I am sorry. Things will change from now on.”
Genuinely Repenting. Here, the key component is changed behavior. The apologizer must acknowledge the wrongness of what he/she did, but they must also accompany that acknowledgment with a plan for avoiding the same mistakes in the future. So, restitution is about fixing the past, repentance is about to change the future. In other words: What are you going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
How to say it: “….. I want you to know that I feel terrible about how I treated you and did not pay child support. I didn’t know any better at that time, but I know now that my ignorance, actions, and assumptions were wrong and shitty and hurtful. I would like to rekindle some sort of communication if you would give me the chance.
Requesting Forgiveness. If someone has hurt me very badly and wants me to forgive them, I would want to see them expressing it all – expressing regret, accepting responsibility, presenting a strong plan for restitution, including plans for the future – before I consider it. I know, this may seem high-maintenance, but it sounds reasonable to me after what I have been through. However, the power of forgiveness is of course solely at the discretion of the wronged party. It is all a power game, too. Asking for forgiveness is about giving power back to the person we have hurt. For some, this is impossible. When we earnestly ask for forgiveness, we are acknowledging that the other person may need something more from us; effort, understanding, or time tor each a place of resolution, and we express willingness to make up the difference on their terms. I want to give the person the opportunity to make it right, but I understand that that day may never come. Sometimes, people are unable to say what they want to say.
How to say it: “I know that there is no excuse for the way I treated you in the last two years, but I am doing my best to change this now. Can you ever forgive me?”
Yes, I can. I guess I sent this letter anyway.