Nothing is worse than an empty apology.
Except perhaps being in a relationship with someone whose apologies have become absurd…laughable, even. You know what I mean, those fake apologies that either serve as a layer of spackle, enforce gaslighting, or are a haughty and blatant justification of someone’s wrongdoing.
It’s all surface-level hoopla that lacks the substance and specifics you really need.
A real apology involves an acknowledgment of the wrongdoing, a confession of guilt, and an expression of regret. A real apology, with its subsequent amends, eventually reinstates trust and has the potential to make you and the offender closer than before.
Fake apologies, on the other hand, cause you to loathe yourself as the offender again runs off to commit more relationship crimes, knowing they can use their “get out of jail free” card whenever necessary.
So, what does a genuine apology look like? Maybe you don’t even know anymore. If you’re struggling to recognize what constitutes a true apology, here are five examples of offending behaviors and their corresponding, genuine admissions of guilt and acts of contrition.
Let’s jump in…
1 – You discover your partner has been watching porn for hours a day behind your back when you’ve made it clear that it bothers you.
Genuine apology: “I am sorry that I hurt you. My actions were selfish and I have no intention of defending them. I was wrong. I apologize and I will respect your boundaries.”
After the incident, you find no more evidence of their watching porn behind your back or, at the very least, there is a true and concerted effort to stop, even if it involves getting professional help.
Fake apology: “I’m sorry you’re offended, but everybody does it so it’s no big deal. Wouldn’t you rather I do this than cheat on you? Besides, why are you taking it so personally? It has nothing to do with you.”
When it comes to relationships, intimate or otherwise, if there’s something you have to hide, you shouldn’t be doing it.
If you consider porn viewing to be a form of infidelity, yet your partner shows no signs of stopping, this is not the relationship for you, especially if you suspect your partner to be a narcissist because the betrayals and sense of not being good enough will only worsen over time.
Genuine apology: “I’m sorry I’ve not respected the importance of your time. I’ve been unorganized and inconsiderate. I’ll try to do better. I hope you’ll give me another chance”.
Afterwards, they show up on time to your planned events, perhaps arriving a few minutes early. They share that they’ve begun reminding themselves about your get-togethers using the ‘reminder’ feature on their cell phone. As a result, you feel important to them and hope things continue to improve.
Fake apology: “You know my life is hectic and I never know what my schedule will look like. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient, but if you want to continue this relationship, you’ll need to accept that these things will happen from time to time.”
The second approach shows no remorse and no appreciation of the fact that your time is just as important as theirs. Everyone has 24 hours in a day and everyone’s time is equally valuable. A person who cares about you as a person will understand this. On the other hand, a person who doesn’t care will continue to place themselves first, flaking out on many of your engagements.
3 – While chilling with your boo, they get up to go to the bathroom. A sext comes in on their cell phone and you pick it up to check it out. You uncover that it’s been going on for several weeks.
There really aren’t many scenarios where an apology would help in this situation. Sure, your partner may come up with some excuses such as, “I met them the last time we broke up and they won’t leave me alone” or “I just haven’t felt that you’ve been taking our relationship seriously”, but really…these are lame justifications for their systematically lying to your face while pretending the two of you are exclusive.
If you choose to forgive your partner for this, that’s certainly your prerogative, but don’t be surprised when, later down the road, you find yourself overlooking all forms of bad behavior – verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and yes, even cheating.
Relationships that involve numerous break-ups and make-ups with one partner immediately hooking up with other people while being apart is a sign that the transgressor has no interest in being part of a committed relationship.
4 – Your partner cheated on you and, as a result, you feel pulled to check up on them. One evening, as you’re snooping on their cell phone, they bust you in the middle of your probe.
Genuine apology: “I know I hurt you and you have every right not to trust me. I hope I can gain your trust again. You’re free to check my phone whenever you wish. I want you to see you have nothing to worry about.”
Over the next several months, you have no reason to suspect your partner of cheating. There aren’t any strange disappearances, no random texts in the middle of the night, and no incidents of being stood up at dinner. Your partner is understanding of your insecurities and helps you gain a sense of normalcy again because they care about you and the future of the relationship.
(This scenario is a bit tricky. Narcissists and other manipulators may go so far as to give you their passwords, but they usually have created a new email by then or have gotten a backup cell phone without your knowledge. In this case, be on the lookout for “late nights at work”, sudden emergencies that need their attention (on a regular basis), and other dubious behaviors).
Fake apology: “I’m sorry that mistakes were made, but you need to get over it already. I feel like I can’t even breathe without your implementing a full-on search mission. If you can’t let it go, I don’t see how this relationship can last.”
The next several weeks consist of their becoming more and more impatient when you ask questions. They punish you with a few Silent Treatments, telling you it’s your fault that the relationship isn’t progressing…and it’s all due to your suspicious nature. Signs of their continued cheating pop up, but you’re too afraid to say anything. In the end, you feel like they’re cheating on you on the regular, and the only thing you can think of to make them happy is to be more relaxed and forgiving around them, all while they continue their affairs on the side.
If a person is truly sorry about a betrayal or something they did that hurt you, they won’t try to justify it or make you feel self-conscious for not being able to trust them.
Instead, they will 1) admit their mistake and the negative impact it had on the relationship, 2) make things right (which includes not doing the thing(s) that hurt you again), and 3) navigate #1 and #2 with patience for as long as it takes.
If a person in your life truly wants to make up for a wrongdoing, they will do so with humility, not dismissive anger. They won’t point the finger at you or bring up their family of origin issues as a pathetic get-out-of-jail-free card.
To be clear, we’re not talking about leaving the cap off of the toothpaste or shoving another pair of dirty socks under the couch. This is all about whether someone cares about you enough to respect your relationship boundaries and be faithful and committed to you.
So, what now?
Decide if your relationship has a strong foundation or is built on a crumbling, chaotic mess.
Are you willing to trade your dignity for it? Or are you willing to trade your future?
It’s the first step to a better life. That one simple decision.
Leave me a comment with your decision. I’ll be looking for it.
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Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at www.healgrowevolvewithkim.com