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Why say sorry?

For any type of relationship there is a general expectation that is should be harmonious, it perplexes and hurts us when it isn't. We place that demand on the situation, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the reality of that situation. When it comes to emotionally bound relationships the pressure for harmony is amplified by any emotional demands that we bring into the relationship or add to it.

You're in a fairly new romance and you have gone through the "get to know you" and "get to know your past" phases. You've had a great day, talking, walking, holding hands, touching and petting, and its getting close to bed-time. Your both sleepy and a little fatigued in the effort to maintain the personable harmony that seems so natural and easy, and the old wounds from any previously painful experiences seem a million years away, another lifetime. Still, she doesn't quite get it, why is it that he chose to leave your ex when it seems to elicit such passion in him? Is he being honest about it being over? Am I good enough? He is explaining how much his ex hurt him and she blurts out "so if she means so much to you, why did you leave?" Its a question that seems so innocent, coming from a place of curiosity. His response surprises her, he turns angrily to her and says "that's so offensive, are you trying to be cruel? Wow. You know what, that really surprises me that you should ask, what are you getting at?" She reacts as an innocent person might and defends her question "I'm just curious", a fight ensues and she calls a taxi to go home. The next day they are both wondering what the hell just happened and why, and is it over?

Anyone who has been in this stage of a relationship may recognize this senario, an innocent seeming question triggers an avalanche of defences and attacks, just when things seem perfect. Actually "things" were never perfect, that's the reality, but we are feelers as much as thinkers and the demands we have made on the relationship are always evident, and these are demands we make on ourselves as much as our partners. When those demands are not met, the deeper thoughts that provide the need for those demands naturally arise. One of those demands may be that the relationship has to be perfectly in harmony at all times. If there is disagreement or argument or even a little discomfort then the relationship is dysfuctional, or over. The thought process that underlies the demand is concerned with the need for approval, and in its dysfunctional form that need for approval is going to tell you that if you are not approved of at all times then you will be abandoned and you will deserve to be. Of course this thought process leads to the feeling that you have been abandoned at that point, and your action will be to abandon the situation, rather than pursue the truth. So a taxi is called, and the two protragonists of the above senario remain at loggerheads trying to justify to themselves why they feel so hurt. Someone has to be at fault, right? Well yes, and no. Fault is also a demand we place on relationships. In reality there is no fault just choices. It is not how the fight began or proceeded that is important, it is how it is resolved that trumps everything. Instead of him blaming her for asking an offensive question that seemed to imply that he should have stuck with the ex, and her blaming him for reacting so sensitively to a simple, and well meant, question, both recognising that fault is not the issue but responsibility is, will quickly quell the impass. Taking responsibility isn't about proving right or wrong, but making a choice and accepting the authority of that choice as a recognition of your ability to respond to the truth. The truth is not that he or she is failing to live up to the demand that the relationship should be harmonic at all times, but that this is simply a demand they have both placed (or it might just be one of the partners) on themselves and given that an argument ensued, that this does not reflect reality.

Turning demands into preferences is the harmonic solution to this, as much as the need to accept that finding fault in the other is dysfunctional. So instead of "this relationship must always be harmonic or it proves I am not worthy of approval", she (or he) says "I would prefer this relationship to be harmonic, but if it isn't I am still worthy of their approval". Doing this will allow either partner to give an apology without feeling that they have failed the demands they place upon themselves within the context of the relationship. She doesn't want to apologize because he reacted badly to her innocent question. He doesn't want to apologize because she asked him a question that seemed to imply that the choice he was making to be with her was not genuine. Both find fault with the other, so both have nothing to apologize for. The reality is, neither do have anything to apologize for, fault isn't the issue. Both, however, are absolutely required to take responsibility for the demands they place upon themselves, their partner and the relationship, for which an apology would make a perfect bridge. Remember, the relationship doesn't have to be perfect all the time and if it isn't it doesn't mean that either is unworthy of being approved of by the other or themselves. Our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings create our actions according to our choices. She sends him flowers, he invites her to his place for dinner, the apology isn't a means to supplicate to the other's truth, or to the truth that she is at fault, it serves as an indicator of her ability to respond and not let a dysfunctional belief that she is unworthy of approval determine whether an issue can be resolved or not.

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