A friend of mine recently shared the following article on Facebook about a study that was just published by Dr. Roy Lewicki and others at the University of Ohio on the subject of what constitutes an effective apology:
The Six elements of an Effective Apology, According to Science
While the information contained in Dr. Lewicki's study is certainly relevant, it is more or less a rehash of the material which Dr. Gary Chapman presented in his book The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships, which was published ten years ago.
Five of the six points in the OSU study's "new research" are directly lifted from Dr. Chapman's points - and they are almost verbatim quotes. To show just how closely Dr. Lewicki's points are to Dr. Chapman's, I will present the OSU study's list in the first column below, and then I will present the matching points from Dr. Chapman's book in the second column:
|OSU Study ||Dr. Chapman's Book |
|1. Expression of Regret ||1. Expressing Regret |
|2. Explanation of What Went Wrong ||n/a |
|3. Acknowledgment of Responsibility ||2. Accepting Responsibility |
|4. Declaration of Repentance ||4. Genuinely Repenting |
|5. Offer of Repair ||3. Making Restitution |
|6. Request for Forgiveness ||5. Requesting Forgiveness |
That being said, the OSU study ultimately draws the wrong conclusions; the OSU study suggests that there is one formula for apologies which works in all situations, whereas Dr. Chapman's book demonstrates that what is most-important in an apology for one person may not be for another.
For example, taking responsibility is of paramount importance to me, but not so much for my spouse. However, requesting forgiveness is extremely important for her, and yet Dr. Lewicki suggested that you could leave out the request for forgiveness entirely. If my wife and I were to follow the OSU study's recommendations, she and I would be apologizing to each other in ways that do not align with the other's communication needs, which will undoubtedly result in additional strife at a time when effective communication is most critical.
In contrast to the OSU study's conclusions, Dr. Chapman's recommendation is that each partner in a relationship learn their partner's expected form of apology and strive to address their partner's needs when expressing their apologies. Attempting to pigeon-hole the communication requirements for every relationship based on a single formula as the OSU study suggests is ludicrous.
So ultimately the OSU study is heavily plagiarized from Dr. Chapman's pre-existing research, and yet that study still manages to arrive at an incorrect outcome.
From Coleman Cox (in 1922):
"Never dispute the woman who says she has a model husband. Webster's Dictionary says a model is a small imitation of the real thing."
Today my wife and I are celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary, which is the single-greatest and most-important adventure upon which I have embarked in my life. I remember when my wife and I were newly married and we would meet couples who had been married 30 years; I would think to myself, "Wow – that's such a long time." But now that I'm the one who has been married that long I think, "Wow – that sure went by fast."
But truth be told, I cannot take credit for the length of our union - I married someone who is an infinitely better person than myself. Seriously. Anyone who can put up with me for a mere afternoon is a miracle-worker, which probably elevates my wife to sainthood.
That being said, sometime around our 25th wedding anniversary I started getting questions from younger couples like, "What's your secret?" and "Why has your marriage lasted so long?" Let me be very clear - I am not an expert on marriage, and in general I am not a person who should be emulated; I am wholly aware of my many shortcomings as a human being, and I am overtly cognizant of my failures as a husband with regard to holding up my half of our relationship. (I always mean well, of course - but I am just as flawed as the next guy. Some days I simply forget to take out the garbage, or empty the dishwasher, or whatever. [Darn. I'm so ashamed.])
However, if I can't be a good example of a husband to anyone else, perhaps I can share a few of the things that I've learned from being a bad example. To quote the good people at Despair.com, perhaps my purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others:
With that in mind, here are some of the reasons why our marriage has endured, what has helped us over the years, and some of the lessons that I've learned the hard way.
I'd like to start things off by answering the question that I seem to get the most: "What is the secret to a long-lasting marriage?" Okay, if you're taking notes, you might want to write this down, because here it is:
Point #1 - Don't Get Divorced.
That's it. Period.
You could stop reading right now because you've already got the main takeaway from this blog. Now in case anyone thinks that I'm making light of this situation, I'm actually being perfectly honest. If you decide that divorce is not an option, it affects every part of your partnership. In our journey together, my wife and I have gone through incredible peaks and valleys - surviving both good and bad times - and many of these situations would have ended other relationships. In the past 30 years we have gone through everything we mentioned in our vows; we have endured sickness, health, prosperity, poverty, joy, adversity, etc. In the end, facing these seasons together and surviving side-by-side to live another day as husband and wife has bonded us together in ways which resemble the closeness of combat veterans. Collective perseverance yields intimacy.
I understand that there are situations where divorce is the only option; for example, when your spouse walks out on you, or your spouse is abusive and refuses to get professional help. When I talk about refusing to get divorced, I am speaking to those of you who get up one day and decide that you don't want to be married, or you claim that your spouse "just doesn't understand you anymore." When these feelings happen, you have to work your way through them. It takes conscious effort, but you made a commitment and you should not quit simply because you are wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Walking out on your marriage because you're bored or you don't want to do the work is little more than cowardice.
To be honest, the fact that my wife and I are still together is a much greater testimony to my next topic:
Point #2 - Christ.
Yes, I know - invoking the name of Christ is considered "Politically Incorrect" these days, but it is a simple statement of fact that my wife's and my faith has helped us weather countless trials and tribulations. So I don't care if it's an unpopular to talk about Jesus, because faith works. Don't argue with success.
Over the years I have learned this next valuable lesson:
Point #3 - Fighting Is Not Worth It.
I have to be brutally honest about whether my wife and I ever fight, and I sincerely wish that I could say we never quarreled. But the truth is - we used to bicker. A lot. In the early years of our marriage we fought like cats and dogs. And on that note, the unfortunate reality of our situation at the time is inescapable: I was 19 years old when I married my high school sweetheart and best friend, who was only 18 years old at the time. We went from kids to couple overnight, but only in the legal sense - maturity didn't show up until many years later. (Perhaps it still hasn't. Hmm. Probably best not to digress on that point.)
I would love to say that my statement about how "fighting is not worth it" was due to some grandiose epiphany which I arrived at through years of soul-searching and mature contemplation of our relationship. But the truth is much simpler, my secret to avoiding arguments boils down to one single concept: laziness. Seriously, fighting took way too much effort, and we eventually learned that it was better not to fight. Here's what an argument looked like in our house - we would disagree about something, which would escalate into a maelstrom of heated and hurtful words thrown back and forth between us. Eventually we would reach some form of resolution, but once the dust settled from the actual argument, we had to endure days of coldness as the two of us figured out how best to rebuild all of the trust which we had destroyed during the argument. It dawned on both of us that it took a great deal of effort to work up the anger for an argument, and the emotional trauma that we experienced was exhausting after our disputes had ended. Once we had realized that valuable lesson, both of us learned to recognize when we were hurtling toward another squabble, and we'd agree to skip over the major conflict part. It sounds easy enough, but it took us years to figure that out.
Now please don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we never disagree, nor am I insinuating that we do not defend our opinions passionately when we hold opposing positions on important topics. The truth is - we still differ on any number of subjects, but we both realize that nothing is worth losing our marriage. Together we have endured destitute poverty, years of work-related separations, the births and deaths of several family members, and raising three children to adulthood.
Throughout all of our combined experiences, I have vividly retained the following critically-important fact:
Point #4 - Always Remember Why You Married Your Spouse.
My wife and I were friends for several years before we ventured out on our first date. In fact, by the the time it occurred to either of one of us that we should be more than friends, many of our friends already thought that we were dating and were rather sick of the subject. (They're probably still sick of the subject, but after 30 years I really don't care. :-P)
Kathleen is my best friend, and we still hold hands when we walk together in public - which is how life should be; she has been the predominant character in all of my experiences as an adult, and she has been a major part of my life for almost 35 years. My wife is truly my better half, so why would I gamble all of our collective memories and life experiences by failing to remember the simple fact that I am sharing my life with the most-important and most-loving person whom I have ever known? If I fail to keep these thoughts in mind, I risk destroying everything. And that would make me a pretty selfish jerk. (Feel free to quote that to my face if it ever looks like we're headed for trouble.)
Point #5 – Be Self-Critical.
Believe it or not, you are not the perfect spouse. The folks at Despair.com got it right when they published a demotivational poster which reads, "The only consistent feature of all of your dissatisfying relationships is you."
While they were just making a joke, it should be noted that there is a lot of truth to that statement. More often than not, you will find that the source of unhappiness in your relationship is your attitude and not some shortcoming on your spouse's part. Every once in a while you need to step back and take a good look at yourself before lecturing someone else about their behavior.
I should probably mention one last thing before bringing this blog to an end:
Point #6 - A Good Marriage Takes Work. A Great Marriage Takes More Work.
Somewhere around our seventh year of marriage I decided that I wasn't content to have a 'Good Marriage,' I wanted a 'Great Marriage.' Unfortunately, I had no clue as to how we should go about creating such a thing. With that in mind, I decided to read at least one book about marriage each year. Some of those books have been great, and others I've tried hard to forget. A few books I have re-read years later; this has usually been an amusing experience for me, because I often discover that some part of a book which I thought was silly and chose to ignore at the time was eventually learned the hard way. In any event, there are a lot of good books on marriage out there, and you may think that some won't apply to your situation, but you have to be willing to try.
Two books which have been life-changing for me have been The Five Love Languages and The Five Languages of Apology by Dr. Gary Chapman; these two books probably changed all of my relationships with everyone I know - spouse, kids, parents, extended family members, friends, coworkers, etc. There are lots of other great books which I have read, but those two are a good start.
In closing, I may not be the best role model for a husband, and I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. But I have learned a thing or two along my journey from the cradle to the grave. I take no pride by admitting that most of my life lessons have been learned the hard way, so you can consider my advice from two perspectives: if I have been an idiot from time to time throughout our marriage, perhaps my advice isn't worth anything. On the other hand, if I've made enough mistakes as a husband to finally realize several of the most-important things to remember in a relationship, perhaps you can learn from my errors.
When I was a child, there was an excitement that preceded Christmas as it approached each year. I am sure that most everyone knows what I mean by that statement; whether you are longing for Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, or even if you are an atheist that participates in some form of secularized holiday celebration. There is a sense of childhood excitement that surrounds the season; it could be the gifts, the decorations, the music, or a host of other contributing factors.
In a small way, I experience something like that feeling each week of the year; every Wednesday night for the past decade or so, my wife and I have had "Date Night." I do my best to never schedule anything that conflicts with this tradition; and as each Wednesday comes around, I look forward to going out to dinner or a movie with my wife in something of that same good-natured attitude of child-like expectation that I used to have at Christmas.
Date Night is a recent endeavor for us; which is unfortunate, but somewhat unavoidable. Both Kathleen and I went directly from living at home to being young, married, and poor; and soon after that we became parents. We were great friends in High School and our first year of college, but we jumped forward several years almost overnight; and as a result, we went from being children to being parents with barely a chance to discover who the other person really was.
Please don't misunderstand me - parenthood was a mixed blessing of training and teething, schooldays and sporting events, chaos and concerts, happiness and heartaches; and I would not trade a moment of my joys or sorrows as a parent. (Well, maybe I could do without the memories from one of my daughter's first boyfriends - and he knows who he is. ) But that being said, Kathleen and I missed out on the opportunity to explore who we were as a couple all those years ago; which is why I enjoy each week's rediscovery that long before I loved my wife, I actually liked my wife.
There is a wonderful scene in the musical Fiddler on the Roof where the main character, Tevye, asks Golde, his wife of twenty-five years, "Do you love me?" I didn't fully understand this scene when I was younger; I simply thought that it was amusing.
But in recent years, Golde's responses to Tevye's simple questions have impacted me differently.
"For 25 years I've washed your clothes,
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house,
Given you children, milked your cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?
"For 25 years I've lived with him,
Fought him, starved with him.
25 years my bed is his;
If that's not love, what is?"
I truly loved my wife on the day that we exchanged rings and we both said "I do" before our friends and family. The reasons why I loved my wife on that day are still there: she has an odd sense of humor, we complement each other well, and she is my best friend. But the trials and tribulations that we have endured together over the past twenty-seven years have changed the dynamics of that relationship.
In our marriage vows Kathleen and I promised to love each other for richer or poorer, for better or worse, and in sickness or in health; and we have endured each of those seasons in due course over our many years of marriage. It is precisely that collection of experiences that has bonded us together in ways for which a night out every week could never substitute; in much the same way that veterans of a war are bonded together in a way that supersedes the love between the closest of siblings.
Two years ago, on our twenty-fifth anniversary, I gave Kathleen a framed portrait that contains our wedding photos and the following quote from Mark Twain:
"Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century."
In many ways that sums up my feelings: I loved my wife when I was nineteen for as much as I understood that concept at the time; but now that I am somewhat older, and perhaps somewhat wiser, I love my wife in ways that I couldn't possibly have understood back then. I tell Kathleen every day that she is my favorite person; and because of that, every week may not be Christmas, but just the same - I look forward to spending each week with her all the more.
This past August my middlest daughter married her fiancé in a small ceremony that was as unique as the two of them. That being said, one moment of entertainment occurred during the service when my daughter recited her self-composed vows by reading them from her Windows Phone.
As a Microsoft Dad, this was too amusing to keep to myself, so I forwarded a photo to some of the folks in the Windows Phone division, and the story was picked up by the Windows Blog team, which published my daughter's description of the event as "First Person: With this phone, I thee wed"
"The wedding was in a little white chapel, up against a mountain, near the ocean. We wanted a simple, elegant wedding that represented us. We went through all the different weddings we'd seen - do we want to mix the sand? light a unity candle? - but we decided that wasn't really us. So we cut out all the things that weren't really us, and wrote our own vows.
"My phone is the thing I always have on me, so when I needed to write my vows I used Office on my phone. Whenever I thought of something I wanted to add, I could just jot it down. When it came to the day of, I thought maybe I should write it on a piece of paper. Then the minister said, 'Why not just read it off your phone?'
"My husband didn't know I was going to read off my phone. He said his vows off paper, and when it was my turn I looked at the pastor and she pulled out my phone and handed it to me. Everyone laughed - it made it a little more lighthearted, so we weren't bawling.
"My husband laughed, because I'm on my phone all the time, and he's on his. So I'm sure he wished he had thought of it. Now the vows are saved on my phone, and every time I want to go back and read them, I can. Meanwhile, his piece of paper is floating around somewhere - I don't even know where it is."
(photo: ©Rebecca Calvo Photography)
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, which is always an occasion for me to become a little introspective. With that in mind, I remember the days of our courtship when we would promise to love each other forever and to grow old together; yet now as I look back on our lives, I realize that we had no idea what we were saying. We were young and in love and completely clueless about what being in love really meant.
Mark Twain once wrote that “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century,” and now that we have passed that milestone I can look back and begin to catch a glimpse of this elusive concept called “true love.”
Love has meant staying together through times of destitute poverty when we didn’t know from where our next meal would come. Love has meant enduring months of separation when I was serving abroad in our country’s armed forces. Love has meant countless sleepless nights raising children and meeting their every need. Love has meant staying by each other’s bedside to nurse one another back to health. Love has meant walking side-by-side through that timeless season of joy mixed with pain that all parents must suffer when watching their children grow up and leave home.
Over the years I have learned that true love is not the offspring of well-meant promises made hastily in your youth; true love is borne of a thousand little things over thousands of days and nights as you grow older together, until you find that so much time has passed that you cannot remember a time when you were ever apart.
Will Durant wrote that "The love we have in our youth is superficial compared to the love that an old man has for his old wife," and I have found my greatest joy in growing old with you.