Over the weekend, my kids (ages 17 and 20, so not exactly kids anymore if you want to be technical) had a conflict that left both of them feeling hurt and angry. This post is essentially what I told the 20-year-old as they were trying to get over the situation.
Apologizing to someone doesn’t always mean you’ve done something wrong. It doesn’t mean you *think* you’ve done something wrong, or that you agree with their perspective.
Sometimes an apology is best translated as “I know I did something that hurt you (or made you angry, or upset you, or whatever), and I regret making you feel that way.”
In the particular conflict in my household, the 20-year-old had said they would do something with the 17-year-old. The 20-year-old woke up feeling ill and with a fairly high fever, so wasn’t up to doing what they’d said they would do. The 17-year-old was angry and disappointed about this, with the result that she didn’t speak to the 20-year-old much of the rest of the day. The 20-year-old was having a hard time with it, so I asked if they’d apologized to their sister.
“No,” they said. “Why should I apologize? I can’t help being sick.”
That was when I explained my thoughts on apologizing. They wouldn’t be telling their sister they were sorry for being sick. They wouldn’t be agreeing with their sister’s reaction. They would just be acknowledging that they recognize how their sister feels and regret causing her to feel that way. I told them, “Don’t even make an excuse or try to explain. Just say ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you’ and leave her alone.”
They didn’t seem to like the idea, because to them, apology means “I was wrong and you were right.” But they gave it a try anyway. As I told them, when there’s a conflict, someone has to be the first to say they’re sorry, or nothing gets resolved. Fortunately, this got resolved.