Monday, February 12, 2018

An apology is an action, not a word

"There is no apology without an acknowledgement of the pain you've caused and making amends for it." ~Brené Brown

I bet many of you have heard, "I'm sorry". The words might have been spit at you. They might have come with tears. They might have come with the additional plea that "you have to believe me."
But I'm here to tell you something about those words. They are meaningless if they are not accompanied by a genuine acknowledgement of the pain he caused you (and the whole family, whether or not they're aware of what he did). They are meaningless if they are not accompanied by a plan to make amends.
That's where a lot of these "I'm sorry"s fall apart.
When you ask him to accompany you to therapy.
When you ask for access to his phone, his computer, his e-mail history.
When you ask him to stop going out with the boys, to stop drinking, to stop flirting.
When you ask him to unfriend ex-girlfriends on Facebook.
In other words, if he isn't backing up his "I'm sorry" with full-throated support of your needs and absolute respect for your boundaries, then his "I'm sorry" isn't worth a damn.
Which means neither is he.


26 comments:

  1. I can’t remember getting a sorry, like you said Elle it’s worthless without the hard work that goes with it.. I’d much rather see the ‘I’m sorry’ than hear it to be honest.. I’ve had neither just lately which leads me to where I am today separated and awaiting divorce. Xxx

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  2. I never got an I'm sorry. I believe he is and he is doing the best he can to make sure I have enough money and that the kids and I are safe and taken care of. I would have liked to have him acknowledge just how much he hurt me and the kids. I don't know if he has wrestled with his shame enough to make what I would call a "fulsome" apology. I need to move on assuming I'll never get it.

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  3. Yes, nothing but words and tears. The words twice. First time, 90 minutes after he disclosed his affair. Second time (9 months later), after he broke up with the ow and "thought" he wanted to come back to me. (Backtracked 2 weeks later.)

    Then a few "I said I was sorry"s, which I don't even count as words.

    Tears rarely leading to anything more than self-pity.

    My hope and patience are being exhausted.

    Thank you for the simplicity and clarity of this post. It's a wake-up call for me!

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  4. I look at this blog daily because it offers me so much. Thank you all, especially Elle. I really needed this today. My husband has been expressing counseling is just to "line the pockets" of the therapist...not helping. He expresses we (the kids and I ) don't love him anymore so why is he still here. He seems to be more focused on his pain than the pain he has caused. I really believe at this point he has some sort of personality disorder and that continued therapy is not negotiable. I hope he can do the hard work. Besides therapy, I need to be able to feel like he is putting our needs ahead of his. I was reading that some people are only motivated by their own pain...not yours. It's hard for me to understand how he is limited in what he is willing to do to make amends. He wants us to "move forward" without any evidence to convince me the unhealthy thinking is gone.

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    1. Anonymous,
      No, therapy is not an option. A man who cheats and then focuses on only the pain he's in and not the pain he's caused needs a whole lot of therapy. I suspect that anyone who cheats is in some sort of pain. It's easier to cause pain than it is to face our own pain, as Brené Brown also says.
      It's like he's stunted at the emotional stage of a child. His needs, his pain, his opinions. Don't tolerate it, Anonymous. He hurt you. He hurt his family. He jeopardized his family. And for what? That's what he needs to figure out. And you do NOT have to tolerate it. I imagine you've been putting up with this for far too long.
      So no. Just no. He doesn't get to tell you that you need to "move forward". He doesn't get to set the terms of reconciliation. IF he truly wants the second chance he's asking for, then he can show you -- with actions, not words -- that he's willing to do the hard work of figuring himself out and helping you heal.

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  5. this is exactly what I told my husband. his words were meaningless unless he acknowledge what he did and realized the pain he has caused. He finally broke down in therapy and acknowledged how he had wronged us, his family. He has done all actions to prove he is a different man. My problem is actually being able to be emotionally vulnerable to accept him into my heart. Hoping that time will help me heal and be able to move from the pain

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    1. heartbroken,
      That is a tough one. It's a huge leap to let yourself be afraid but to try and remain open -- like closing your eyes and jumping off a cliff, trusting there's a net. Are you in therapy at all? A therapist might be able to help you with that.

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    2. Heartbroken, this was a very difficult aspect of recovery for me too. I am normally an introverted person who keeps my feelings inside. Well going through this affair recovery caused me to be even more guarded. My therapist was a major help. At a certain point they said if you want this marriage to work you need to start gradually putting yourself out there emotionally. Otherwise it is not at a certain point going to be worth it or you will be living half a life. It has been the hardest part for me for sure. I try gradually to let my guard down. Honestly I have gotten better with my husband but with others I am so closed off family and friends. My husband struggles with this and says he feels responsible for me changing so much. He knows this rocked me to the core and really has changed me. For various reasons I have not seen many friends in three years now and am distant from many others in my life. I pulled back from all extra responsibilities to focus on my self care and our marriage too. So I do less in the outside world. It is really tough. I just keep trying...

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  6. My H has shown remorse by everyday expressing how much he loves me and says he only ever wanted the illicit Adrenalin fuelled sex with the OW as most of the excitement was the flattery and encouragement she rubbed him with. At three months on and feeling lost and uncertain whether to remain in our marriage(married 45 years!) I asked him to write a letter to her which he did. This was a turning point for our relationship. He spontaneously wrote to her that he never envisaged the agony this deceit would inflict on me and that ,as she had had an unfaithful ex husband herself she would know the damage she was causing and how he was much happier now that the affair was over and the lying had ceased. I have a copy of this letter and whenever I feel awful and the horror overwhelms me I read it. A concrete tangible piece of reality to his owning his own double life and failing. I am one year on from D day and have kept a sort of diary to chart my accommodation of this reality check. It does get better to all those walking this uncertain rocky path.

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    1. What your husband wrote is something I hear all the time -- including from my own husband. That relief that it's over. And the shock at how much pain it caused. Plus the regret that they ever made such a choice.

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  7. Anonymous I know exactly what you mean and this was the case with us, after all the hurt four years ago and then going back talking to her 9 months later, then intermittent lies and disrespect, then asking a woman who fancied him to lunch last summer, he never got to the bottom of what he was doing, did not face in and change.Only now is he going to IC and both of us in MC can I see a glimmer of hope. I've really been stuck because I've got so many of these apologies, he apologises for everything so much so that it becomes meaningless and yes, then that 'but I said sorry' and his assertion that I'm holding onto things and can't let them go. His frustration and annoyance directly vehemently at me that why can't I understand that he cares, why I am I still hurt or whatever. Because, just as the post says, I have not had the true acknowledgment of the effects of what happened from him - rather the contrary, annoyance because I can't get over it, which is a complete kick in the teeth. As part of a final transparency document in November (make or break time) I found out he'd kissed an ex girlfriend, more revelations about money and these inappropriate friendships and lunch dates but it seemed like I was supposed to just get over all of those things that were heaped onto the original affair and made things so much worse (your pain meant nothing is what he was telling me) (your boundaries and requests meant nothing). To then turn on me and get annoyed and angry at me for not seeing "all the good things" has been awful. Today, finally today, he has spoken to me about it and seems to be beginning to understand. His "unhealthy thinking" Anonymous is deepseated, going back to a dynamic with his parents in childhood and you are right, if there is no work to discover where the old patterns come from, if the tendency to resentment and feeling no-one sees his pain go on, then there is no chance your relationship can heal and grow. I've seen some fantastic stuff from Tara Brach on this and a wonderful book by Steven Stosny "Love Without Hurt" gets to the bottom of it as well. A lot of issues come out of self-hatred and wanting to blame others, it may be more with your husband Anonymous Feb 12 but he seems to need a lot of help one way or another to change his mindset - if he wants to. You need to give yourself all the compassion possible. We have gone through a recent awful bereavement. No-one would expect us to move on without acknowledging what happened and remembering our nephew etc. People sympathise and realise that we are raw and hurting. There is no-one shouting at us to move on. I feel it is the same, an affair is a loss of so much.

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    1. You're right FOH. Betrayal is like bereavement. And the way to heal is to acknowledge the pain, to allow yourself to feel the loss, and then, when you're ready, to begin to heal, bolstered by the love you felt and the gratitude for having had the chance to know the person. Betrayal is more complicated, of course. But certainly follows a similar trajectory.
      I'm glad your husband seems to be finally facing up to his "unhealthy thinking" (which is something of an understatement). Hang in there FOH. Wishing you healing as you process the loss of your nephew and offer support to your family...and as your husband reckons with the pain he's caused.

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  8. You are so right and I need to be reminded of it. I like your most recent posts in this line of thinking To me it is like, wake up, get real, get authentic. I love it when you get your panties in a wad. Such strong encouraging posts.

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    1. Panties-in-a-knot-Elle is the best Elle. ;)

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  9. I have gotten a few I'm sorry's through the years. I'm so sorry.... Usually when he has had some wine. I know deep down he knows how much pain he has caused me - but he doesn't want to own up to it fully be responsible for all that pain.

    I know he will never be transparent. He will never show me his phone, his What's App messages, he will never unfriend all the his ex's and all the women he cheated on me with on Facebook, he will never show me his bank statement or credit card statement or put me on his accounts. He will never stop drinking. I know all this - and I guess that means he isn't worth a damn. It should be cut and dry, so why is it still so hard.

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    1. It's hard because you still love him and because of your kids. Cut the chords and get away from him so that you can rebuild your life and have peace. It doesn't sound like he is going to change and this will continue to hurt you until you decide that you don't want to feel like this anymore. I know it's easier said then done. I hope you find peace soon Ann and you can make a decision that is the best for you and your kids. You all deserve better. Hugs and prayers.

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    2. Ann, make a list of things that he brings to the marriage/family. Make a list of things that you bring to the marriage/family. Then follow up with a list of things he’s taking away from the family (trust, transparency, time, faithfulness) and of course add in your list of things you take away from the marriage family. Make a big ol list of things on poster board. This exercise will show you how short some lists are while others exceed the space and poster board. Sometimes writing things out and making the issue visual and not held in your heart or emotions helps. It’s clear in your heart this is not working. Make it visual so you train your mind to see it and feel it. This may help you move on and realize your lists are better served for someone worthy of you. Hugs

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    3. Hi Ann,
      I was reading an article and I am going to paraphrase the best advice I have read:

      As women, we must stop:
      Catering to their illusions [and entitlement]...
      Staying quiet to avoid conflict...
      Internalizing their projections from their disowned pain.
      Minimizing our feelings in their presence.
      Accepting crumbs of respect, instead of what we truly deserve.
      Giving our power away in the form of emotional caretaking.
      Giving time and energy to men who refuse to do their inner work.

      We have to stop or we will never get peace.

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    4. MBS,
      I think the issue of emotional labor is becoming such a flashpoint. So many of us move through the world care taking from such a young age that we don't even realize we're doing it. The worst sin a girl can commit is to hurt someone's feelings. We internalize that and, before we know it, we're leaving ourselves in unsafe situations lest we make someone else feel bad, or that we don't like them.

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    5. Ann, I think it is hard because we gave our all, our trust and all of ourselves. It is not easy to face that. None of this is easy or fair. Thinking of you every day!

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  10. I love this post and it has made me think and wonder about a written letter from my spouse. If anyone who reads this would share if their spouse actually wrote them a letter of apology that helped them along the healing path. I feel that my husbands remorse and apology is sincere in every way. His tears, his words his actions and his ongoing expressions telling me he is sorry and will never do anything to hurt me/us again are regular. I still trigger deeply at times and those events are really hard for both of us. It takes him to a dark place he does not want to be. It takes me to a dark place. I suspect a lot of my emotional distress is deep and predates him. I just didn't act out sexually. Those are my own childhood wounds. However, I wonder if he wrote me a letter that I could actually pull out and read when I feel myself falling down that dark hole might help short-circuit the free-fall? Thoughts? Words of Wisdom?

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    1. Beach Girl, I am right there with you. I would love to have gotten a letter, something in writing expressing what he feels and thinks so I could go back to it in a moment of need. I have gotten cards with many nice thoughts and even some original poems with a lot of meaning. However then I am reminded of the stack of cards and letters I have from before and during the affairs. I look at those and am troubled. They are all amazing. I of course asked how could he feel the way he did and do what he did yet look at what he said to me. Well he said he had to since he was my husband. So basically he just put words to paper. I took them as having meaning but for him it was an exercise in obligation. It is a very sad spot for me. It just reminds me of how fake everything was for him. I know it is all his issues but still it feels as if I wasted 25 years. I have all these things from our wedding piled up in a corner. Things our grandmas made and other important people but I would love to burn them. Our marriage certificate, the rings I only put on often enough so our kids do not ask questions. I still think about selling them. Even though he has told me point blank that would crush him.

      So I too wish for that but in the end I know it really will not make anything better or me feel better. Just temporary relief for me. I continue to focus on his words and then watching his actions. Sigh...

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  11. Beach Girl, I have a letter from my husband, written on Valentine’s Day (2015) about 2 weeks after he told me of his affair. Although we struggled tremendously after that, separating and later almost divorcing ... I cherish that letter. Although I recognize that words must be upheld by actions, my language of love is definitely words of affirmation. Yes, I read it (and cards I’ve received from him since) that help me in time of need, or even when I’m feeling good - I feel even better. Also, during our struggle, I sometimes took notes when he said or did something that really helped my healing process along. I haven’t read those notes much, yet they have helped when I needed to recall and know and stay out of the rabbit hole. If you didn’t take notes at the time, do it now ... journal the things your husband has said or done throughout this ordeal which have made you feel better. You can pull out your list ... refer to it, add to it ... this has helped me. Hugs!

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  12. Beach Girl, just my thoughts but as healing evolves so does the need for proof. During the first phases of post Dday, it may help to actually see that he does get it. But really it is no sign that he is truly understands because he can lie on paper too. At one point I thought it might help me too. I decided that after 2.5 years that keep pounding at the same rock just hurt our relationship. I was trying to move forward not backward. I looked for actions that say I love you, I want to be with you and deserve a second chance. Every time I saw him do something, I would say in my head, "he is saying I love you". It took me at least 2 years to even see his actions. All I say was bad, negative. So a forgiveness letter for me was just more words. What I did was I looked at cards he sent me over and over which said I love you, I want you and I adore you. If it takes you to a dark place why go there. My H just doesn't say he is sorry. But he is great with actions that show he cares. You just need to decide is this worth it to me.

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  13. BeachGirl, I wanted a letter after D-Day 1 and I got one and I CHERISHED it. I wanted something on paper that I could return to if I felt unloved or just doubting. It was a great letter and at the time I think he meant it. But then of course there was a D-Day 2---
    I say if you want one, get one.

    I have really had to stop the last few months and watch my H. because our talk of the "affairs" or really /sex addiction is lesser and lesser, so far and few between and sometimes I get very resentful and fearful.

    But for the most part, I see he is doing a LOT more than he used to. He still spends too much time on his own projects and too much time procrastinating on everything else, but that has nothing to do with me. He feeds the dogs and meds the cats, he makes almost every meal in this house, he shops, he handles the business end of things without much input from me. I can see he is a changed man, and I sincerely hope he has changed enough. because it's taken a year and a half to start to like him like this again. Three years ago on valentines day (unbeknownst to me) he bought his EFFING whore a gift while he was out shopping for mine, and bought a burner phone for himself--so Valentines day is tainted for me, but he's in the kitchen right now making me dinner, he bought me, not flowers that will die, but has NOTICED my knack for keeping orchids and other flowering houseplants alive--I didnt need to tell him, he noticed, so me bought me a beautiful flowering plant and told me why Also bought not candy, but my favorite dessert. He's also taken the reins and planned next months vacation top to bottom, as I requested. So words are great, but actions are so so much better.
    The letter though is up to you, BG if you want one you should get one. You should pretty much get anything you want for the rest of your life :) That's how i feel about all of us though.

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  14. Thank you Steam, Melissa and LLP, for your thoughts and observations and personal experience with all this. I decided that I would write him a letter for Valentine's Day which has never been a day with any "emotional investment" for either of us as we both hate contrived and bizarre "holidays". Anyway, my letter was sincere and from my heart and basically told him how I felt and what I felt I would need for the rest of my life. He responded exactly how I hoped he would and we went out for pizza like I wanted. I love pizza. I so hope I get to meet you ladies.

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