“Ow! You stepped on my foot!”
Caitlin pushed her boyfriend away.
“Well, you shouldn’t have been standing behind me!” Drake turned to face Caitlin, who was hunched over clutching her foot.
“I was standing there because I was trying to help you,” she said, exasperated.
“I don’t need your help.” He turned his back to her and walked away, scrolling furiously on his phone.
Caitlin watched him go. Her foot was throbbing, but that wasn’t what was causing the dampness in her eyes. This always happened. They fought over the stupidest things. And instead of apologizing, Drake just walked away.
She didn’t know if she could take it anymore. She knew Drake loved her, but his actions hurt her.
In An Ideal World
Every time your guy hurt you, he would say:
“I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”
And he would give you a kiss and a hug to make up for it.
That’s not surprising!
We’re really, REALLY bad at apologizing.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Gressel jokes that men are born with a limited number of apologies, so they have to be careful how they spend them.
On the other hand, for many women, apologizing isn’t hard. You just open your mouth and say, “I’m sorry I did that.”
So why do men resist apologies?
Is it something in their DNA?
Why Men Won’t Apologize
It turns out that there is something about being a man that makes him less likely to apologize…
But it has less to do with DNA than with socialization.
Among girls, apologies help restore the connection if someone’s feelings have been hurt. It doesn’t even matter if you did nothing wrong. Apologizing expresses your concern about your friend’s feelings and your hope that things can be okay between you again.
That’s why a female friend will often reply to your apology with, “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gotten upset like I did/I should have been clearer about what I wanted.”
You both apologize to each other, and everything is fine again.
Male relationships aren’t like that.
When boys grow up, they quickly learn to avoid any signs of weakness. Saying sorry means admitting fault, and admitting fault means he did something wrong. That puts his alpha dog status at risk, and he can’t afford that.
So boys learn to reserve apologies for major violations of trust. They shrug off minor incidents as nothing big.
Clashing Communication Styles
Now the boy has grown into a man, and the girl has grown into a woman. They join into a relationship, and they discover that their communication styles don’t work with each other.
When she apologizes to him, he shrugs it off with, “Don’t worry about it.”
When he doesn’t apologize to her, she feels horrified that he’s not trying to repair the distance between them.
They don’t understand each other, and their relationship suffers.
So what can they do?
These 3 tips will help.
Tip #1. Have a meta-conversation.
A meta-conversation is a conversation about how you talk to each other.
Have you ever talked to him about what an apology means to him? When would he say, “I’m sorry”? When would he expect to hear you say, “I’m sorry”?
Talk to him about how good it feels when you receive an apology. Focus on the positive benefits of apologizing rather than the hurt you feel when he doesn’t apologize.
Tip #2. Create a safe space for apologies.
One of the reasons men don’t apologize is because they don’t want to feel shamed for making a mistake.
So take the shame out of it. If your guy apologizes to you, or makes an effort to repair the harm he’s done, accept his apology in a way that leaves his self-esteem intact.
Don’t treat it as an invitation to elaborate on what he did wrong and how badly it made you feel. Don’t express your concerns about the wording of his apology or whether he really meant it. Don’t demand that he make it up to you in a specific way.
Instead, thank him, hug him, and move on.
He needs to know that you love him, and you’ll never use that moment of vulnerability to make things worse.
Tip #3. Get clear on what you need.
Sometimes, what you think you want is an apology, but what you actually want is something else.
Maybe you want to know that he cares about your feelings enough to notice when you’re sad or silent.
Maybe you want to feel closer to him, to know he cares about you, and to feel his love for you.
And when you don’t get the response you’re hoping for, you feel angry. It feels like he doesn’t love you enough.
If apologies are about connection, then getting angry at each other for not apologizing creates even more disconnection.
So, if you want connection, ask for it.
Lead with what he can give you, not with what he’s not giving you.
You may just find that he cares a lot more than you ever knew.