Dear Crucial Skills,
I’m in a relationship where I find myself constantly apologizing and I’m starting to feel like a doormat. Do you have any advice?
Dear Stepped On,
If you don’t mind, allow me to try to help in the most brief and direct way possible: STOP APOLOGIZING.
Genuinely expressing sorrow and regret for bad behavior is one of the most powerful ways to regain trust and build a relationship. But over-apologizing, or apologizing when you shouldn’t, can turn you into a target of mistreatment.
If this person you’re in a relationship with believes your intent was bad, but in fact you had good intent, an apology is not the right approach. It’s disingenuous and unhealthy to apologize for your behavior just to spare another’s feelings.
Instead, clarify what you intended. Here are three tips:
Share your good intent. Let this person know that you care about them, the conversation, the relationship, and the outcomes.
Contrast to fix misunderstandings. When there is a misunderstanding between what you meant and what they think you meant, contrast to clear things up. Explain what you don’t intend (address their misperception) with what you do intend (clarify what you really want). For example, “I don’t think you’re irresponsible; I am asking for your help with stuff around the house.”
Act in ways that reflect your good intent. I’ve always loved the words of the late Stephen Covey, who proclaimed, “You can’t talk your way out of something you’ve acted your way into.” If you’re going to express your good intent, your behavior needs to match.
I constantly remind myself that I can’t control other people’s perception of me; I can only control my behavior. I hope these tips help you work on your behavior rather than apologize for it unnecessarily.