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How to Help Your Partner Trust You Again, Part 6: Bringing Them Back to the Present Moment

Updated: Sep 29, 2022


The more present you can become with your partner's pain, the less hijacked they will feel by past wounds. Sharing how you feel now can jog them back to the present moment.


“Okay, so I’ve acknowledged that it happened, but I’m not doing it anymore. If that’s not enough for them, how else am I supposed to prove that I’ve changed?”


I’ve worked with so many frustrated couples who find themselves in the above situation. Remember the new model for taking accountability from Part 2? Let me give you a refresher:


1) Own it: Acknowledge specifically what you did that hurt them (past).

2) Apologize: Express the guilt and remorse you feel now (present).

3) Commit to how you want to improve moving forward (future).


What’s missing is the second step! You can own how you hurt your partner (past) and commit to how things will be different moving forward (future) all day and all night. But without an expression of remorse or an apology in there, you’ll likely end up talking past your partner the entire time.


In this post I want to continue exploring the importance of getting vulnerable and humble with your partner. In previous posts we talked about managing shame and resentment as you take accountability, as well as how you can take ownership of how you’ve hurt your partner by acknowledging their specific grievances. Now it’s time to talk about sharing your guilt with them.




Shame vs. Guilt


While we’re here, you should know that there is a difference between shame and guilt. First off, nobody needs you to feel ashamed. Shame only begets more shame. It’s a survival mechanism and social holdover from primate society, and it’s hundreds of thousands of years of evolution out of date.


But I do find that one possible benefit of people feeling ashamed is that oftentimes, it can serve as a stepping stone toward finding ourselves in a place of guilt. Even still, it isn’t necessary to take the path through the fires of self-loathing in order to find yourself in a place of healthy guilt.


“Nobody needs you to feel ashamed.”


So if you’re struggling with shame, I want you to remember that it’s a normal survival mechanism, and that nobody needs you to be feeling that way. You’re striving to be a better person, and even though you made a mistake, you can still aspire to reach for that goal. You don’t have to get stuck drowning in your shame.


And that’s where guilt comes in! If shame describes “I am bad,” guilt describes “I did something bad.” Guilt is a reminder that you are imperfect, that you are human, and that you value doing the right thing. Furthermore, if you were perfect, you’d probably be a pretty boring person. Our imperfections are what make us lovable. Telling your partner that you feel sorry will remind them that you recognize that you are human, building some empathy and softening their resentment toward you.



Do you Struggle with Apologies?


Some people have a really hard time saying the words, “I’m sorry/ I apologize.” There are a lot of reasons why it can feel impossible to say those words, and they’re all probably wrapped up in a sense of shame and humiliation.


First, I want to remind you that there is a difference between humbling and humiliating yourself. And second, I want you to know that most people are satisfied with at least some expression of remorse. As long as your partner knows you regret how you hurt them, they are likely to feel more at ease and more willing to trust you again. “I feel so guilty,” “I feel horrible about it,” “I’m ashamed,” “I regret it,” etc. are sufficient “apologies” for most people. In fact, I’d argue that these words are what make an apology feel more real than a simple, “I’m sorry.”



A Real Apology Includes Remorse

When I was in grade school, I can remember some kid being forced to apologize to me on the playground for something they clearly didn’t regret. He even smirked while he said it to me. From a young age, we’re taught that all an apology requires is going through the motions of remorse. But that kind of experience doesn't help us feel better at all.


Think of all those forced, phony apologies that politicians and corporate executives make when they’re caught doing something they're not supposed to be doing – is this how adults are supposed to take accountability? I think as a society we are getting pretty disgusted with these empty apologies. This is not the kind of apology you’re making to your partner!


An apology needs to be genuine and contrite. It’s not a joke, it isn’t sarcastic, it isn’t delivered with a grin, and it’s not a one-time thing. If you’re going to rebuild trust in your relationship, try to maintain the mindset that your partner might need to hear these words almost every day for a year. They will let you know when they don’t need to hear them anymore.


I’m not saying you have to cry when you apologize. You don’t necessarily have to even look them in the eye – bonus points if you can, though. Just focus on communicating the feeling you have now about what you did. That’s usually what they really need to hear.



Thanks for reading this post! I hope you found it helpful. For more information on delivering an effective apology, be sure to check out the next post in the series, "Apologizing Without Expectations." And remember that if you need more help figuring this out, you can always reach out to me to schedule an appointment.

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