When Sorry isn’t enough


Ever dropped a glass and watched it explode into an impossible jigsaw? Shards skitter in every direction: small ones, sharp ones, invisible ones. The mess is hard to clean up. The glass, once beautiful, ceases to exist. Even a new one that looks the same is really never the same. I’m probably parroting a well-recycled metaphor here. Still, when that final word was said, that look exchanged, and that unshakeable thought seeded—how do we heal this?—that’s how it felt. Like something lovely and fragile had shattered.

Whatever the grievance happened to be (I forget now) it started out like any other disagreement—spontaneous, passionate, seemingly inconsequential. Yet as time went by, we found ourselves covering old ground and getting far too irate because of it. A dinosaur-bone of contention had clearly been unearthed, and for a while at least, we were both prepared to live with it—or ignore it.

On one hand, I suppose, we were still finding our feet as a couple. On the other, frequent standoffs, provoked by differences in opinion, stressed us out; the thought of arguing was always made worse by the fear of getting nowhere. So we never argued the right way. Inconceivable at the time of course, was the well-proven approach of systematically working through our issues; tearing down the overgrowth to squarely face what squirmed beneath.

Instead, our haphazard routine of pulling each other apart regularly led to a crushing replay of familiar complaints, disappointments and incomplete resolutions. We walked away, wounds unsutured, and hoped they would heal with minimum attention. Most of the time they appeared to. It seemed enough to say sorry and leave it at that. But an apology unsupported by a change in behaviour quickly becomes ineffective—a gaffer tape remedy for that impossible jigsaw.

The problem, you see, with offering little else than “sorry” each time, is how practiced you become at fading out sincerity. If sorry worked before, it might work again—even if you don’t mean it. But at some stage clarity blows in. You discover you’ve been to this dreary place before and that every apology up till now has done little to improve it.

Don’t get me wrong, “I’m sorry” are beautiful words to hear, especially when spoken from an open and honest heart. In a few instances though, they do nothing to salve the aches that run deep.

For some, the inconsolable hurt comes from a solitary event: a joke gone too far or a careless act that hammers at the core of a tender spot. For others, like us, the hurt accumulates and swells to fracturing point.

When sorry ceases to be enough, asking for forgiveness is the only way forward. But forgiveness—forgiving and being forgiven—is a progressive act, one that requires acknowledgement of the almighty stuff-up that started it all. That means talking through everything: from when the problem first surfaced, to how it became the distorted monstrosity it is now. It means taking responsibility for the parts you both played in nursing it, and putting measures in place to ensure future issues are resolved before they become untameable.

Asking for forgiveness, dare I say it, is also a benchmark of maturity. I know how difficult it can be to hear your faults, agree with them, then ask how you can improve down the line. It’s scary putting your emotional freedom into another’s hands, albeit temporarily. But that’s how foundations dismantled by deep, raw hurt are effectively rebuilt.

When my husband and I could no longer be consoled by apology, our efforts to follow through on the solutions we discussed worked like the mother of all healing tonics. He asked for my forgiveness and worked to earn it, just as I worked to earn his.

Naturally, a small matter of rising pride might prematurely lead to hasty objections. Is this just a fanciful solution? Why go through all that trouble? Why change for someone else?  In my experience, the things that injure relationships are never worth saving. Why be stubborn and unpliable when all that does is aggravate?

Like a new glass—similar but different—our relationship is as it was before. Just better. The old has ceased to exist in one way but continues in quite another—pimped and improved and resolutely shatterproof.

words by: Choe Brereton

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