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How to Help Your Partner Trust You Again, Part 5: Improving the Impact of Your Apologies

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

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

“Talking to a person while they’re looping is like talking to a broken record.”


Is There an Echo in Here?


“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” you have wondered to yourself. But it’s not only about the frequency – it’s about how you do it. You can improve the quality of your apology by being really specific about what you’re apologizing for.


I want to talk about the phenomenon of “looping.” This describes when a person keeps repeating a grievance over and over no matter how many apologies or solutions you present to them. Talking to a person while they’re looping is like talking to a broken record. That’s when you can pull this tool out of your toolbox to help that record play on.



Restating the Problem


In a past life I worked in customer relations for call centers. While the work was demanding and tiresome, I enjoyed being able to make someone’s day with basic empathy and problem solving skills to resolve their issues. It was a nice hors d'oeuvre to my counseling career.



This would happen to me all the time.
Here’s what looping looks like in the call center:

“My package is late.”

“That must be upsetting. Let me look into that for you.”

“It’s late. It was supposed to be here already.”

“We can get to the bottom of this. May I have your order number please?”

“I needed it for my daughter’s graduation, and it’s not here. Where is it?”


And here’s how it might look like for you:


“I can’t believe you cheated on me.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not cheating on you anymore.”

“You really hurt me. How could you?”

“I’m sorry! Don’t you know I’m sorry? It won’t happen again.”

“I’m not sure I can ever trust you again.”





See what I mean? I know comparing a late package to infidelity sounds ridiculous, but the strategy of getting through to the troubled person is the same. It’s a simple procedural step I learned in the call center: Restating the problem. Once you do that, the conversation will almost always move in a more productive direction.




Here’s how that might look in the call center:

“My package is late.”

“I understand your package is late. Is that right?”

“Yes, it was supposed to be here by now.”

“That must be upsetting. We can get to the bottom of this. May I have your order number please?”

“Sure, it’s A2045982348758234.”



And here’s how it might look for you:

“I can’t believe you cheated on me.”

“I did cheat on you."

"I'm so mad at you."

"I know you're hurting because I cheated on you. I’m so sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“I want to trust you again but it’s hard.”




I know the above example isn’t exactly a happy ending. But at least they’re not looping anymore! It is like magic: Once they understand that you understand, the conversation can progress toward exploring other thoughts and feelings around the situation.


This is what taking accountability looks like. Restating the problem lets the other person know that you hear them and gives them permission to stop trying to convince you of what you already know. Keep in mind that this step might require some repetition before they are ready to accept that you get it and talk about something else.



Being Specific

When you’re restating the problem, try not to be too vague. Apologizing “for what I did,” or “for how things turned out,” or “for what happened” will probably just lead to more looping on your partner’s end. In the case of an affair, the apology might need to be something like, “for lying about what I was doing with them/ when I was with them,” or “that I had sex with them,” or “for not telling you that I was falling in love with someone else before it escalated,” etc.



Disclaimer...


You also don’t have to go into every gory detail. If you’re trying to take accountability for an affair, you don’t have to go into every sex position you tried with the affair partner and how many orgasms anyone had. When it comes to infidelity, it’s not always healthy for partners to hear unnecessary details since it can be hard for them to get those images out of their head.


There can be a fine line between secrecy and privacy, and you are entitled to your privacy in these situations. If you’re struggling to find that line, it can be helpful to get feedback in individual therapy on where and how to draw it.



When You’re Not Sure What To Say


Many people also struggle to identify what specifically their partner needs them to name. It might seem counter-intuitive, but one way you can help yourself feel less overwhelmed is to just ask them what they need to hear. Take the pressure off yourself to mind-read exactly what they need and have a frank conversation about what parts of your betrayal hurt the most. I often facilitate this kind of conversation in couples therapy, so if having the conversation on your own is too challenging, you might consider working it out in counseling.


“I find that people are often surprised by how relieved they feel, even when they provided their partner the script of what to say only moments before.”


A lot of people balk at this suggestion because they worry that it come off as mechanical, or it won’t sound genuine when they say the words their partner just provided to them. But I have found that when someone is contrite and their intention is to improve the relationship, delivering the script your partner gave you only builds their confidence that you are listening and that you care for them. Even when your partner is the one balking – “It isn’t genuine if I have to tell you” – I find that people are often surprised by how relieved they feel, even when they provided their partner the script of what to say only moments before.


Keep in mind that your memory might not work in your favor after this conversation since you’ll probably be having a lot of big feelings. Consider taking notes on what they tell you so you can address each specific point they make. Remember that betrayed partners usually need to hear you tell them that you know what you did that hurt them often, sometimes even daily for up to a year. Using your notes to address their major concerns can help them feel seen and supported in their pain.


If you’re enjoying this series and would like to learn more about helping your partner recover from betrayal trauma, check out my next post, “Bringing Them Back to the Present Moment” for more tips and strategies. And if you want to help accelerate and boost your recovery skills, remember that you can make an appointment with me for couples or individual counseling.

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