Why Is It So Hard To Apologize First In Relationship Fights? Experts Explain
Picture this: You've just argued with your partner, the dust has settled, but you're still angry because you haven't fully resolved the issue at hand. The active fighting is over — the bickering, the attitude, both sides of the argument have been presented — but neither of you has apologized, so the frustration continues to simmer. Neither one of you is willing to say the two words that could resolve the situation: I’m sorry. But why is it so hard to apologize first (even when you know it would put this fight to rest) and admit that you had some part in why it happened in the first place?
According to Brenda Della Casa, relationship coach and author of Cinderella Was A Liar, a refusal to apologize simply comes down to ego. "Many times, we allow our ego to be attached to disagreements and equate apologizing with being weak," Della Casa tells Elite Daily. "In reality, having the maturity, respect for your partner, and self-awareness to admit when you're wrong are all signs of strength."
Couples can also reach an impasse out of a desire to "win" the argument, as Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily. "For some people, apologizing first may mean that they have ‘lost the battle’ and view it as a form of surrender," Brown says. "They believe that apologizing first is a sign of weakness. This is totally false."
The real problem is that refusing to apologize can become a habit that’s detrimental to the health of the relationship, says Della Casa. "Relationships are built on patterns of behavior, so if you and your partner have a history of ‘one-upping’ one another or simply letting things ‘blow over,’ you may find that apologizing doesn't come easily for either of you,” she explains. “You may think ‘I'll just ignore it until it goes away,’ which sounds like the easy way out, but it actually builds resentment in the long run."
However, realizing that apologizing first may be the best course, and being able to actually swallow your pride and make the first move toward reconciliation, are two different things. Here is why the experts say it's worth doing, and how to do it right.
Why Apologizing First Can Mean Your Relationship Wins.
Showing the humility required to apologize following a disagreement can be really difficult when emotions are running high, but Dr. Brown says the benefits outweigh the difficulties. “Holding onto your own anger or sense of righteousness isn’t going to make you feel better,” he explains. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be right, or do I want to be close?’ If the answer is you want to be close, then apologize as soon as you can. Otherwise, you’ll be trapped in your own negativity. Be smart and get your ego out of the way. It's better for you, and better for your partner.”
Admitting fault and offering a sincere apology for your part in the argument is also the quickest way to move past anger and onto healing for you both, says Dr. Brown. “It frees you up from some of the negative energy within you when you’re holding on to resentment or false pride. It helps you to begin to heal.”
His advice is to approach the situation with as much empathy and understanding as possible. “This doesn't mean that you need to mercilessly beat yourself up for what you may have said or done, but it does mean that it’s important to apologize as quickly as possible,” he explains.
How To Apologize The Right Way.
When you’re ready to apologize, Dr. Brown stresses that the apology needs to be genuine and acknowledging of your mistakes. “You might say something along the lines of, ‘I just realized that what I said has hurt you. I’m so sorry for what I said. How can I support you right now?’” The key here is taking accountability for your behavior, Brown says. “This is generally recognized as a sincere apology, unlike what we sometimes refer to as a ‘fake apology,’ which would look something like, ‘I’m sorry that you feel this way,’” he explains. “This particular wording is no apology at all, as it doesn't convey that the person saying those words is actually sorry and feels remorse for what they said or did that created the other’s pain to begin with.”
If you’ve ever received the latter type of apology, you already know how false it rings, whereas the former validates the offended party's feelings in a way that can help lower their defenses. This can lead to your partner reciprocating the apology, says Dr. Brown.
Arguments are far from the best aspect of being in a relationship, but they’re usually part of the package. This is why Della Casa says it's up to both of you to decide how much impact those disagreements will have on the health and longevity of the relationship, and apologizing first may play a key role in that. “Relationships are built by two people with their own experiences, ideas, habits, outlooks, triggers and pet peeves. That means you’re going to have disagreements. It's how you handle those disagreements that will determine your satisfaction in the relationship and whether you will make it in the long run,” says Della Casa. “At the end of the day, you need to decide what’s more important, your pride in the moment or a future with your loved one."
Dr. Gary Brown is a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles