Friday, September 2, 2016

Inch One Hundred Thirty-Four: An Apology Letter

Warren and I do not argue. Heck, we rarely pick at one another.


I know what you're thinking. That's unhealthy. That's the sign of a disconnected relationship. I know: I read all those "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" columns in the Ladies Home Journal when I was growing up too. Where couples said "we never argue," the counselor would be quick to note that all couples needed to learn healthy and vigorous ways to express their disagreements or the relationship would stagnate and wither.

But that is not our situation. We don't argue because at this stage of our lives, coming into a later-in-life marriage out of two contentious marriages marked by a lot of strife, we choose to resolve differences in ways other than arguing.

But last night came as close to an argument as we ever come, especially when I threw my napkin across the table, jumped up, sprinkled two inappropriate words in the sentence I flung at Warren, and stormed into the percussion room to cry and mop at my nose, which chose that moment to start bleeding.

The flashpoint? How I have characterized the vacation we just took. The match that lit the kindling? A sentence in a letter from our sister-in-law about "Warren's vacation."

Warren was hurt. It was our vacation. Why have I characterized it as his vacation? That makes it sound like he demanded we go to Colorado.

I was defensive. But this vacation was for Warren, I insisted, in that we revisited places he had hoped to see for the last few decades. I was thrilled to take it for the pleasure I hoped it would bring him. Why wasn't he appreciating that and accepting it as a gift from my heart? I'm not sure how many more vacations I have left in me and wanted one that would be special for him.

At one point Warren even said I characterized the vacation unfairly in my blog. I did not, I insisted.

I looked at my blog this morning.

Warren was right. The sentence is right there: This was Warren's vacation, revisiting places he had last seen when he was 15. 

Crap. That is not what I meant to say. At all. What I meant to say was This was a vacation we planned together, in part to revisit some places Warren had last seen when he was 15. I figured everyone could read between the lines. 

I help facilitate a class at Juvenile Court called Victim's Awareness. It is a class for juvenile offenders who just don't quite get the victim piece. Either they are clueless they had a victim at all ("I shoplifted from a Big Store. They didn't get hurt.") or they don't care that they had a victim ("She deserved it."). One of the homework exercises the juveniles struggle the most with is writing an apology letter to their victim. They then have to share the letter by reading it aloud to the rest of the class. We require the letter have more than just "I'm sorry." The letter must acknowledge the wrong behavior and recognize how the victim was hurt. 

And it must be sincere. 

Oh man, that's torture. I have seen kids turn red at this assignment.  I have heard kids labor through the reading, not because their reading skills are substandard but because it is so hard to say "I'm sorry." 

I know why this exercise is so hard for our juveniles. Because it is hard. It is hard to say "I was wrong." It is hard to say "I'm sorry" without adding a "but" to the rest of the sentence. The "but" leads to an excuse. Or a justification. It is hard to say "I hurt you," especially when the victim is someone you know and love, like a family member. Sometimes our juveniles break down and cry reading a letter.

I am not crying while I write this blog post, but I think I now know how a juvenile feels facing that empty white page. I need to own up to my thoughtless actions that made a victim, in this case my dear husband. I don't get to say "I didn't mean it the way you took it" or "how could you think I felt that way?" or even (although I did not resort to this last night) "you know I don't feel well anymore and you need to cut me some slack."

I need to swallow my pride and excuses and defensiveness and own up to my actions.  So here's my apology letter:

Dear Warren:

I hurt you by my calling and characterizing our vacation as "your vacation." This is unfair and gives the idea that I had nothing to do with it except accompany you. My behavior diminishes the trip we took, the sights we saw, and the fun we had. I know from last night that my words have hurt you deeply. I am sorry.

With love,



Laurie said...

I did feel I read between the lines, and knew what you meant about your vacation. Hurting Warren is what matters, of course, and bravo for your apology. Communication has been an area I've consciously worked on, & certainly have lots more to learn. I've learned over the years that it's easier when I apologize as soon as I realize I've done something hurtful or spoken untruth, and it does seem to get easier the more I do it. Relationships can be an interesting dance with plenty of opportunities for growth!

Anne said...

You continue to teach me how to be a good friend, mother, and wife.

Adeline said...

Oh my! i wish I could have what it takes to be so brave and admit things just like you!

Darla said...

I don't find it so hard to say "I'm sorry" but you gave me pause for thought because those little words kind of brush the situation off if you don't add what for or acknowledge what unhappiness your words or actions may have caused.