Last week I wrote that men can be oblivious, and I proved that really well with my previous week’s lesson on communication where I wrote about a friend’s situation. From a therapist perspective, I thought it was one of my more practical and helpful lessons. From a personal level… it sucked. I was feeling good about the lesson until that friend I wrote about messaged me to say, “She read your post and isn’t happy.” Oh, crap cakes (the worst kind of cake). When I wrote that lesson I never took into consideration that she would read it – can you say oblivious? I also thought I was vague enough that it couldn’t be connected to them. After all, I could’ve been writing about a client and just said “friend” or I could’ve been lying and said “friend” to hide the fact that I don’t have any. Based on the dumb things I say and do that wouldn’t be farfetched. A wise person once said wrote, “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on first. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire… It can set your whole life on fire… People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.” (Jam 3:5b-8a) If the tongue is so dangerous, how can we not expect it to get us into trouble once in awhile, especially when what we say/write is then up to the receiver for interpretation? How many husbands have gotten in trouble for saying what they thought was a joke, but it was interpreted as a jab? How many people have made situations worse by texting even if what they wrote seemed helpful? Fortunately, social media never leads to misinterpretations. (That might have been sarcasm.) Since the tongue is so dangerous, we need to be ready to know what to do when we screw up.
In my post that got me in trouble I mentioned how awesome my friend is and this situation proved it. He was incredibly gracious, especially since I got him in trouble with his wife. I screwed up hard. He could’ve easily attacked me or been an extreme hider never talking to me again, but he’s too good a person to do that. I’m a lucky friend.
When we screw up we have a handful of choices:
- Hide: This can include physically hiding or lying.
- Attack to scare the person off: It can sound strange, but it’s amazing how often this is the go-to especially for married people: “I could apologize or yell at you… yeah, the second sounds better. I’ve had a bad day.”
- Talk down to the person: “Yeah, you deserved that. I think you owe me the apology for making me hurt you.”
- Go over the top kind, which can be annoying.
- Simply apologize.
Bonus: “A gentle answer turns away wrath/ but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Pro 15:1, NIV)
You’d think being a therapist the fifth would be a no brainer for me – nope. I desperately wanted to lie. I had even written a beautifully crafted lie before deleting it, but I knew my friend deserved better – more crap cakes; honesty’s hard, but I needed to own what I did. In this situation he proved by being someone of integrity he made it easier for me to follow his lead. I didn’t need to bite my tongue or be the “better” person. I simply needed to mirror his integrity, which is one of the reasons the Golden Rule is so valuable. We’re more likely to do back what the person does to us. By being a good person, we’re more likely to have people be good back. If we’re rotten, guess what the return is likely going to be.
Now the question becomes how do I properly apologize? An apology is always a great way to show we care about someone and sometimes it’s a way to admit fault. In this case, I needed to do both. I cared and I was at fault. I know a lot of people don’t like apologizing because they don’t think they did anything wrong, but an apology isn’t always about admitting fault. It’s like being at a funeral: (visitor) “I’m sorry for your loss.” (family member of the person who died) “I knew you did it!” It’s also important to remember that an apology is not a sneaky way to give an excuse for what we did and it should never include a “but” because a “but” erases the apology.
When someone cares and is at fault like I was, I needed to give a proper apology, which includes defining in one sentence what I did wrong and how I can prevent it from happening again. In this instance, my original apology to him sucked because of my fear. What I wrote should’ve been simpler and to the point more like the following:
“I am very, very sorry. My goal of giving you a compliment and saying how much I think of you while teaching a valuable lesson backfired hard. Instead, what I did became a betrayal of your trust because it got you in trouble with your wife. I should’ve been smarter by asking permission to use the gist of the conversation we had as a basis for my lesson or simply not mentioned you. Thank you for being so gracious. I hope I can be given the opportunity to restore what I’ve damaged.”
This is a good apology. My actual one was rambly and didn’t include thanking my friend like it should. Panic makes even the most experienced person dumb. Ultimately, I should’ve apologized to admit fault and to humble myself before him, and then I should’ve offered appreciation to raise him up because he was incredibly kind when most would’ve lost their mind on me.
Now, having apologized, I will now have to let time pass while trying to demonstrate I can be trusted (Trust = Time + Good Boundaries + Good Behavior). That is the repercussion for my poor choice. Where I get stumped is how I would apologize to his wife (if I was ever given the chance). To be honest, I’m not sure how to define what I did wrong to her. Ideally, I would be able to ask a couple two option questions like I taught in the lesson that got me in trouble to better understand what made her so upset. For instance, “Are you upset at me because I betrayed your husband’s trust and you’re mad on his behalf or are you angry because you think I did something personally against you?” If it was the first, that makes sense. If it was the second, that’s really unfortunate because that definitely wasn’t my goal.
The better question for me to ask is “Are you angry that your husband told me something you think should be kept private or that it could be interpreted that I made him sound better than you?” If it’s the former then this becomes another question: “Should we be allowed to talk about our marital frustrations with a close friend or are we supposed to keep it buried?” From an emotional health standpoint, the answer is we need to be sharing. It’s healthy for us and helps develop friendships when we share our hearts because when venting is done right it leads to better connection. If the answer is she felt like I made him sound better than her, I would want to follow it up with an apology and a question: “I’m sorry it felt like I was putting you down. Can I ask a question? (If yes) Do you think my goal was to compliment my friend or to put you down?” Notice I’m not saying “but” in my apology, but (now I’m using a “but”) by recognizing that I made a mistake (aka oblivious) and wasn’t purposely trying to put her down (aka be mean), it should reduce the hurt (or logically it should). Ultimately, what I think about her when we haven’t seen each other in years is really a matter of who cares? To her, I should be a nobody (or someone she can use for free help).
The question I’d love to ask but will never get the chance is “Are you hurt because I mislabelled you or because I spoke truth and you didn’t like the way it sounded?”
Bonus: Here’s a great line: “So don’t bother correcting mockers;/ they will only hate you./ But correct the wise,/ and they will love you.” (Pro 9:8)
What’s unfortunate is I believe in being factual in order to develop better self understanding and confidence – yes, these are my strengths, these are my weaknesses, and here are the benefits and drawbacks of both. This, in turn, helps me better accept others for their ways. For instance, I am a guy who struggles with wanting to hide from conflict and bounces between blaming myself too much and passing the blame. This is who I am and this is what I need to work on improving. When I labeled my friend’s wife as a hider who passes the blame, she’s not that different than me. Was I judging her or simply observing her behavior in order to better address the situation? I’d argue the latter because it was factual observing, which is necessary for proper social skills and growth.
What’s been interesting/challenging for me is while I’m a hider, my wife is someone who bounces between hiding and attacking depending on the person. With most people, she is quick to hide from conflict and blame herself, but then she’s quicker to attack those closest to her namely her sister, mom, the kids, and me. You could argue her being an attacker with us is a sign she loves us the most and feels the most love in return. It could be seen as a compliment. Either way, that’s who she is – it’s fact; she can work on being healthier, but these tendencies will always be there. Considering I married her, I can’t be angry for her being who she is. I can only help encourage healthier behavior by demonstrating what’s healthy. I ultimately need to be like my friend who showed great integrity making it easier for me to show integrity in return.
The great thing about my wife’s attack mode versus my hiding is we can balance each other out and encourage both of us to be less of our natural inclination. By being different, we can make each other better… or drive each other nuts. It’s always a little of both.
For my friend there are two main possible results:
- She’ll prove I was right (i.e. she’s a hider who passes the blame by not dealing with this situation while hating me.)
- She’ll prove I’m wrong or be motivated enough to push past her natural instincts and work with my friend to have better communication, and a year from now she’ll be thanking me for screwing up.
Here’s hoping this is one of those situations where good comes out of the bad.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)