| August 15, 2012

Most of us are quite clever at using lines of defense to protect ourselves from the truth. We might hide from the truth about who made a mistake, who is to blame for a missed appointment, or who is responsible for a betrayal.  

I suspect you think you don’t practice the art of denial. If  that’s the case, then think again, because if you’ve ever said, “I wouldn’t do that,”  “I didn’t mean it,” “You’re overreacting,” “You’re too sensitive,” “You were wrong too,” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” you do fit into the denial category.

Many of us, including myself and my clients, feel the tug of denial because we sincerely want to be smart, helpful, good people rather than harmful people who make mistakes.  

Fortunately, we have the power to use logic to help us drop our denial defense. We have the ability to use our words to turn a mistake into a chance to build our character. We can feed our need to be good by admitting we’re wrong.

From this point forward, I want you to consider your mistakes as an opportunity to bring out the best in yourself and your relationship. We are at our best when we are truthful, humble and compassionate; we are at our worst when we obstinately refuse to admit wrongdoing.

Saying the three words, “I was wrong,” is the start of a solid truthful conversation between you and your spouse. But, even more important in predicting the success of any apology is what you say after you utter those three words. 

As I write in one chapter of my bestselling book, "Fight Less, Love More," a perfect apology has three simple parts. The first part is to say I was wrong and to make a mountain out of a molehill. For that, rather than diminishing your mistake, you embellish it with a comment like, “I made a huge mistake.” 

Then for part two, you dig deep into the error by saying what you did wrong and which value was weakened. For example, “I was wrong to tell my friend about your newly diagnosed health problem. I betrayed you by sharing it and I expect that it made you mistrust me.” Realize that when your mate (or anyone else) is mad at you for your mistake and he/she won’t let it go, it is usually because your action crossed the lines of trust and/or respect. So be clear. Identify what you did.

The third step in a perfect apology is what fuels understanding and makes your relationship stronger. You must offer a plan of prevention for the future. Many couples I see in my couples mediation practice have lived for years without advancing to this final step. When this happens, the consequence is a recurrence of the same alienating mistake. If you betrayed your spouse’s secret, you might say, “In the future, when you tell me something about your health, I will ask you if this is private before I share it with anyone else.” 

The perfect three-part apology is essential because it offers a sense of relief for both sides. The wrong feels somewhat righted, and the future is open to a life without repeating that mistake.

From now on, view your mistakes and wrongdoings as an opportunity to reveal your best self.  Do this and you can expect to build — and keep — strong prosperous relationships for a lifetime.