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How to Help Your Partner Trust You Again, Part 7: Apologizing Without Expectations



I’ve noticed that a lot of people deliver their apologies with strings attached. I can almost guarantee that if you have some kind of expectation from your partner, they will smell it on you and will not receive it as you hoped.


There is a concept in Buddhism called “the wanting mind” which describes the never-ending quest for consumption we all take part in as human beings. There’s an Oprah quote that captures it pretty well: “If you look at what you have in life, you'll always have more. If you look at what you don't have in life, you'll never have enough.” The expectations you have of your partner's response going into the apology could be described as an intention of what you hope to consume from them.


If you want to help them heal and rebuild trust with you, it’s essential that you temper these expectations. An apology is not a quid pro quo. You can’t expect absolution. You can’t expect forgiveness. You can’t even expect that they’ll accept the apology. So what can you expect?



Who Am I Becoming?


What you can expect out of offering an apology comes down to your own willingness to take accountability for how you’ve hurt someone. That accountability is an affirmation of your most aspirational values – you might articulate those values as something like authenticity, honesty, or being a force for good in the world. Maybe your actions haven’t always reflected those values – that’s why they’re aspirational! You aspire to live out those values, and that’s what makes you you.


An authentic apology is not a tool for manipulating people into giving you what you want. It is instead a tool for reminding yourself what kind of person you want to be. It comes from a place of enoughness and knowing who you are: A sense of, “I have everything I need right now.” The only expectation that it’s fair to have when offering an apology is that you know you messed up, and you want to be better moving forward, and that that’s enough.


Expectations vs. Hope

Another way of looking at this is from a perspective of courage vs fear. I have personally spent so much of my life shying away from showing up and expressing myself authentically out of fear of not being smart, talented, capable, or lovable enough. That not-good-enoughness permeates everything, getting in the way of my relationships, my career, my hobbies, and even publishing this blog!


"I am at my healthiest when I am leaving expectations behind, and embracing hope."

It’s admittedly an ongoing struggle, but one in which I continually have to let go of my expectations around what is supposed to happen, and instead put my energy into doing what brings me joy and embracing a more fearless self-expression. In other words, I am at my healthiest when I am leaving expectations behind, and embracing hope. After all, not knowing how something will turn out is where hope lives.


Cultivating a Recovery Mindset

So how can you let yourself live more fearlessly? A lot of self-help advice will tell us to avoid or ignore our wanting mind, or to suppress those instincts. But the most cutting-edge psychological research on this subject reveals that the most effective method for cultivating a sense of enoughness rests in self-compassion and learning not to judge yourself for your experience.


Let’s face it, a lot of us did not get everything we needed as children. When that happens, you’re going to need a lot more now of what you didn’t get back then. You can rely on others to help you, but at the end of the day, it’s your own responsibility to learn how to provide that for yourself – to re-parent your wounded child. And if you’re struggling in that arena, that’s what therapy is for! It’s not your partner’s job to validate you and make you feel lovable. Their job begins and ends with holding you accountable for taking care of yourself.


It’s okay to hope that your partner will accept your apology and eventually come to a place of forgiveness. But if you find yourself expecting this kind of validation from them, you can practice saying to yourself, “I’m noticing that I’m wanting that, and that’s okay.” Practice self-compassion for your wounded, fearful parts. “I will be okay with either outcome.” It’s the truth, isn’t it? Nobody’s going to die. You’ll be okay, either way.



We Can Plan the Amends, But We Can't Plan the Results


I’m a really big fan of how 12-step recovery communities talk about making amends. To boil it down, the goal of the making amends (the eighth step) is to repair the damage caused from your unhealthy behavior. Part of this is a willingness to make your apology regardless of the outcome.


12-step community sponsors will coach their sponsees not to ask for forgiveness when they make their amends. It’s a good tip: “I hope you can forgive me” removes the spotlight of accountability from yourself and puts the onus on the other person to take care of you. Remember that when you’re apologizing, you are the caretaker in the interaction, not the person you’re apologizing to.


"Apologizing is a step toward learning to forgive yourself."

Another expectation to be wary of is that you will feel relieved of guilt and shame. I have worked with many people who feel intense disappointment after they apologize to their partners and continue to feel bad about themselves. That can even breed into more resentment: “Why should I have to make myself vulnerable to them if it’s not even going to help me feel better?” It’s common for many people to lose hope at this point, and to make up that the process of making amends isn’t worth pursuing.



It’s okay to feel hopeless sometimes! But don’t let that run you into the ground. There is a saying that “we turn away when we are closer than we ever were before.” The guilt that has you feeling so dirty is evidence that you have betrayed your own conscience. You can let that guilt act as a cleansing catalyst toward reclaiming your identity. Apologizing to the person you’ve hurt is not about acquiring their forgiveness: It is a step toward learning to forgive yourself.



I hope you found this post helpful! Check out the next post, "Helping Them Dream About the Future Again" as we begin to wrap up the 'How to Help Your Partner Trust You Again' series. After that, we'll talk a little about what partners can do for themselves to heal from the betrayal. And as always, you know where to find me if you find yourself needing more help.

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