Category Archives: Relationships

Facing a Grave Illness

Should doctors tell their patients when death is imminent?  Would the news make a difference? 

A while ago, my dad had bad stomach pain.  He called the doctor, and the doctor said, “Oh just take some antacids.” He took antacids for about a week, but the pain didn’t go away.  The doctor went “down periscope” and discovered that my dad had a rare form of stomach cancer, and it was bad.  He underwent surgery and then did chemo (which you all know how pleasant of an experience that is).  While this was going on, I asked the doctor if he could explain to me what was likely to happen next based on what he found.  He said he’d give him about five years.  I thought, “OK, he’s 61. Five years is great.”

He was dead in six weeks. 

As it seems, a huge percentage of doctors don’t want to eliminate hope or upset anybody, so they exaggerate.  It makes it difficult for everyone involved for a couple of reasons.  First, the person who’s dying may want to sort of tidy up his or her life by remedying some relationships or putting some business things in order.  In addition, caregivers need to plan their lives too, especially since they put all their focus and energy into taking care of the ill person.

In my dad’s case, the cancer had metastasized to his brain and it took very little time for him to die.  It was stunning.   He had led such a healthy life except for several gin and tonics every night.  Otherwise, he ate nauseatingly healthy food.  You’d open up the refrigerator at my house and you’d say, “Is there nothing here to eat?  This is all way too healthy.”  I did try – although it was pretty grim – to have a conversation with him about what his wishes were before he passed, but he wasn’t up for talking about it.  It’s because of this that I think it’s really important to know the truth about your loved one’s quality of life – How is the disease going to progress?  What are you going to need to do?  What are you going to feel like? – before it’s too late.

I realize that some people want to know the truth and some don’t, but that’s exactly why a doctor should ask and not just soften the news.  Hope is nice, but “hope for the best to prepare for the worst” is probably smarter.  Of course doctors don’t know when the end is going to come exactly (they’re not soothsayers), but they know enough from their experience, generally speaking, to be able to say, “Don’t plan past Thursday,” or “Don’t plan past next year.”  And yes, there are always exceptions every now and then (i.e. the doctor says that the person is going to die sooner than later, and it happens later), but usually they can make a good guess. 

The doctor should also ask if he or she should tell the patient’s family.  Getting permission to tell the family is very important because when doctors withhold information, it becomes more difficult for the family to chart the patient’s course in life.  And moreover, if the doctor withholds information from the family, they’re going to just go look it up on the Internet.  I think a human being should be the source of that information.

Sometimes people don’t want to talk about death with their physician, or certain decisions need to be made without their input.  When the doctor tells it like it is, it allows family members to decide what they want to do and not do.  They can decide if they want aggressive treatment that might prolong life, or choose to stop treatment, which could result in a faster but perhaps more comfortable death.  These decisions are part of the new focus on health care which is allowing people to die with some dignity, and leaves families feeling at least somewhat competent in the time of crisis because they know what’s being asked of them. 

In addition, families should discuss whether or not they want to know the truth if one of them gets in that position.  Generally speaking, the family wants to know a little bit more than the terminally ill person.  Personally, I want to know the calendar day and time.  I’m big on clarity (I have already had all of these discussions with my son so he knows exactly what I do and do not want).  However, a lot of people feel negatively about that because they believe it eliminates hope.  But either way, my recommendation is that your family should sit down and discuss plans in case someone needs treatment.  People freak out about discussing this because they don’t want to even think about it, but you should (even with your more mature children in their mid-to-upper teens).   Sit and calmly talk about what all the possibilities are and your wishes for each scenario (i.e. “If my brain is no longer connected to reality, I don’t want to be here”).  You can even leave the option open to have life prolonging treatment for when the time comes.  

Remember that everybody else stays behind and has to deal with things after you’re gone, so providing clarity about what you want helps everybody deal with feelings of guilt, fear, and anxiety later.

A woman called me a while back whose 92-year-old mother was alert and perky, but she was on perpetual dialysis.  She wanted to get off it, call in hospice, and call it a day.   Of course her daughter was upset.  She was not only losing her mom, but her kids were also going to have to experience death.  However, I told her that she had to respect her mother’s wishes.  I said that hospice is an incredibly moving experience and takes care of everybody in the family, not just the person leaving, and that her mom had decided she had lived a good life and didn’t want to be spending her time watching her blood being recycled.  She just wanted to go out peacefully, and her daughter needed to honor that. 

Are We Becoming Robots?

When I was a kid, there was a Twilight Zone episode depicting a futuristic society with no jails.  Instead, if people did bad things, they were put on another planet all by themselves.  One of these inmates, who was very lonely, was pitied by one of his captors and was given a huge box.  Inside the box was an extremely lifelike female robot.  It displayed sympathy, compassion, love, fear, and other human emotions.  At first, he was disgusted: “I’m not going to have sex with a machine,” “I’m not going to develop a relationship with a machine,” “I’m not going to let a machine touch me,” etc.  However, as the years passed, he managed to get over his feelings of repulsion and formed a relationship with the robot.  But then, he received word that he had been pardoned and could go home.  He went to go grab the robot, but the pardoner said he couldn’t bring her with him.  The man broke down in a screaming fit because, in his mind, she was human.  He was willing to stay on the planet with her even though she wasn’t real.

I think that episode is very relevant today because that’s the direction we keep moving.  I read an article a while back about how Japanese scientists have been working on robots for years to be like butlers or maids and provide child care in the home.  If it isn’t already bad enough that we have mothers who don’t mother their own children, just imagine what it will be like in the future when there are machines that will watch your kids for no pay? 

The development of the human brain deeply and profoundly requires human interaction.  This is why in preemie wards at hospitals there are always people next to the babies, touching and holding them.  Human beings require connectedness to develop the ability to love and show compassion, and I think we’re already on the road to losing our sense of humanity.

I read another shocking article discussing the development of “emotional phones,” which simulate hand-holding, breathing, and kissing:

“The next generation of phones could hold your hand, breathe on your neck and maybe even kiss your cheek.  In pursuit of more ‘emotional’ and ‘sensory’ phones, a designer at the Berlin University of the Arts showed off three prototypes at the TEDxBerlin conference…that can recreate those sensations.

One phone includes force sensors and a strap that goes around a hand that can tighten, simulating a squeeze, when a friend grips their own phone. Similarly, the breathing prototype picks up air movements on one phone and translates that into a jet of air on the other (not so good for heavy breathers).

The most alarming (and creepy) prototype is the kissing simulator, which involves a moisture sensor on the smoocher’s phone and a motorized ‘wet sponge pushing against a membrane’ on the receiver’s phone, according to Fabian Hemmert, the designer. The sensor can differentiate between a peck on the cheek and a full on sloppy kiss — moving the wet sponge to simulate accordingly.”

Is this intimacy!?  It’s like masturbating to a vibrator without ever having any kind of love relationship. 

I think texting is already a step away from intimacy.  The idea that a few ill-spelled words are meaningful discourse is frightening.  Technology is something that is simply taking over our lives.  I get scared seeing people walking around with their thumbs moving and ignoring the world around them, or texting while they’re sitting with a group of people at dinner.  I’m sure they’re thinking, “I have to answer this!  I have to contact this person immediately!,” but it’s not really contact at all.  It’s barely communication.   

We’ve known about the negative effects of technology on kids for years.  For example, it’s pretty obvious to everyone that it’s not good for kids to sit around all day and watch TV.  The Associated Press reported, “The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds…Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure – results that parents of young kids should be alert to…”

If you put this all together, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the more you are invested in these abrupt spurts of connectivity with the world, the less you are going to be able to relate eye-to-eye with other human beings.

When to Give an Ultimatum

The number one rule about giving an ultimatum is to mean it. 

A lot of people give ultimatums, but in their heads, they’re not sobered and settled.  They’re trapped, for example, in the belief that they can’t do any better and that spending life alone would be worse than staying with a person who hurts them.  When you say, “If you don’t stop drinking, I’m out of here!,” you’re really saying, “Please change so I don’t have to think about leaving.  I can’t actually live alone.”   That’s why I tell people they shouldn’t give an ultimatum until they actually have their bags packed and a game plan.

The reason most ultimatums don’t work is that the person making it is not ready to follow through.  They hope and hope and hope the threat itself will be enough to make some magical change happen, but more often than not, it doesn’t turn out that way.  You have to remember an ultimatum is finalIt’s a demand that if not met, will result in a direct action.  Basically speaking, the direct action is leaving.  If you are telling your partner for the first time that his or her behavior is unsettling, that’s not an ultimatum.  An ultimatum is a final shot across the bow.  It’s a last resort after you’ve tried everything else. 

The time to issue an ultimatum is when you have the courage and means to follow through on it, and not until then.  If you don’t, stop whining and complaining, and just make the best of life.  Seriously, I mean it.  You can only give a truthful ultimatum if you’re indeed ready to leave.  

One of the dumber ultimatums I hear people make is, “If you don’t marry me, I’m leaving.”  It’s just ridiculous.  Who wants to get married to someone they have to threaten into marrying? 

The best thing you can do is avoid getting to the point where you have to issue an ultimatum in the first place.  It’s much better to be up front in the beginning of a relationship and explain what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Very few people do this because they don’t want to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend.  They play games in their heads and figure everything will work out.  However, if you don’t like someone’s behavior, you need to state your boundaries early on.  If you really don’t want to marry a smoker and you’re dating a smoker, you have to tell them you have no intention of marrying a smoker.   That’s stating a boundary (“I have no intention of __”), not giving an ultimatum. 

So be sure to state your boundaries — “I have no intention of shacking up”; “I have no intention of having sex out of wedlock”; “I have no intention of using drugs or being with somebody who is abusing drugs.”

Finally, giving an ultimatum to a controller is just silly.  They’re not going to give up control.  There was a woman who recently called my show about her husband being a Scrooge.  He made five to 10 times more than she did, but expected her to hand over all of her paycheck and split the grocery bills with him.  I did not tell her to give him an ultimatum (she had already done that over and over again without success).  I told her to inform him that he’s the man and by definition of a man, he is supposed to provide and protect.  I said she was not to hand over her paycheck anymore, and direct deposit the money into an account he didn’t know about.  He needed to face the reality that there would be no water, no lights, no heat, and no house unless he took care of things.  An ultimatum wouldn’t work on him because there was just something wrong with him.  I told her if he didn’t respond appropriately, she’d have to be ready to move home to Mother. 

If you want to avoid these messes entirely, just talk about things before you get married:  “How many kids will we have?”; “How will we deal with our prospective families?”; “What do we think about religion or sex?”  About six months of premarital counseling should go into any marriage.  I would say that a good 30 percent of people who go into premarital counseling don’t get married, and I think that’s fabulous.  That’s a lot fewer divorces tearing up kids’ lives.  It’s not necessarily that anybody is bad – they just find they’re not a good match after actually discussing the issues of marriage.

So remember: an ultimatum is a final declaration.  Don’t issue one when you don’t have the courage and the means to follow through on it because you’ll only be looked at as even less than you already are.  You’ll also think less of yourself.  It’s hard to impress yourself when you see yourself not having any guts.           

 

To Complain or Not to Complain?

Recently, I took three of my lady friends and husband out to lunch at an amazing soup and sandwich place (by the way, my husband handled being surrounded by four women very well).

When the food arrived, the salads and sandwiches were great, but the soup was horrible.  It was watery, had no flavor, and the vegetables were not cooked.  The lady who sat us came over and asked how everything was, and I said the sandwiches were incredible and the salads were magnificent, but the soup was not very good.

Not three minutes had passed when the chef arrived at our table asking what was wrong with the soup.  Now, I felt kind of bad, but I thought, “You know what, I’m paying and this is a service, not a favor.”  So I told him we have soup there all the time and it’s always been really good, but today was a fluke.  He said, “I appreciate you’re telling me that,” and offered to make us some dessert.  As we were finishing up, the manager also came over.  He said, “Thank you very much for telling us.  This is the kind of feedback we need.  We are very busy for a reason, and we try to take care of the customers and make the very best food we can.  So thank you very much.”

I got thanked for complaining!

We have an innumerable amount of complaints and dissatisfactions during a day, but certainly not all of them are important to discuss.  Women in particular tend to have a little a-tisket-a-tasket basket in which we accumulate a million little irritations throughout the day.  We often call our friends and bond by bitching about the things in the basket.  And when our husbands walk through the door, we start in on them.

When considering whether or not to complain, the first rule is don’t complain when you’re angry.  Calm yourself down, or else you’ll look like an idiot.  And you’ll look especially stupid if you get crazy about something that just happens as a part of life.   For example, if you go insane when you go out to the parking lot and find a little ding on your car.  You know, it’s actually sort of good when you get your first little ding because then you don’t have to be neurotic about the car anymore.  You need to remind yourself that things just happen, and if you stay crazy and irate, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.  The problem with complaining is if you just want to complain, you’re going to annoy a lot of people and make yourself sick.

The bottom line when considering which complaints to voice and which to let slide is you have to think through the full implications of leaving the problem unresolved and the long-term impact of solving the problem.  You have to learn the difference between something you can change and something you can’t.  It’s all about solving the problem.

For example, let’s take something trivial that happens at home.  Your spouse finishes the roll of toilet paper and doesn’t replace it.  Instead of complaining, just get a cute little basket and put some rolls of toilet paper in it.  Then you can just say, “Sweetie, I know it’s a big pain in the neck to schlep all the way across the house, so look what I got.  This makes it very easy to put a new roll on.”  When you’re thinking about bringing something to your sweetie’s attention, think about what the resolution could be and offer it.  Maybe they’ll have an even better idea about to resolve it.  But either way, make the problem something to be resolved rather than a fight to be had.

So, the next time you’re thinking about complaining, ask yourself the following questions I found in the article titled, “The Squeaky Wheel”:

1. Would leaving the complaint unresolved affect the health or mental health of anyone concerned?

2. Could leaving the complaint unresolved erode the relationship with the other person over time?

3. Do you find yourself thinking about the issue frequently? Has it nagged at you over time?

4. Is the frustration, hurt, or disappointment you feel about the issue substantial?

5. Would resolving the complaint improve your quality of life?

6. Would resolving the complaint improve your mood in the short or long term? (then it’s worth dealing with)

7. Does leaving the complaint unresolved make you feel powerless and helpless?

How to End a Relationship

Have you ever been dumped?  Was it done cruelly? Crazily?  Compassionately?

Being dumped is one of the more devastating things to happen in life.  Although there is no way to totally alleviate the pain, if you are going to end a relationship with someone you have to remember you once cared about him or her.

Here are some basic tips on how you ought to approach ending a relationship.

Your first thought should be: Am I sure I want to do this?  Breakups should not be done when you’re ferociously emotional.  In addition, you should not use the breakup as a threat – i.e. “I’m going to leave you,” or “I’m going to divorce you.”  The last thing you want to do is keep yo-yoing somebody around.

Don’t make the decision in anger.  You’ll say certain things you’ll either regret or don’t mean in the first place.  If you’re really angry, just tell him or her, “I’m losing it right now, and I’m probably going to say things I’m going to regret.  I need to take a little time, and we can continue talking about this when I’m calmer.”  During the breathing period, you can talk to your parents, a minister or counselor, and/or a really good friend who is not just automatically going to side with you.

Choose your timing well.  Don’t end a relationship with somebody while he or she is sick (unless it’s chronic and he or she will be ill forever) or has a big exam or project at work.  You can wait.  Also, wait for privacy.  You don’t need an audience for this.

Don’t be wishy-washy.  You have to be definitive, clear and final.  If you think you’re being nicer and letting him or her down easier by being wishy-washy, you’re not.  All you’re doing is driving that person crazy.  He or she doesn’t need all the drama — the cycle of escalation and deflation.  So don’t be overly dramatic.  Just say, “I’ve made this decision,” and then stick to it.  Don’t be a patsy.

Prepare for the worst.  Your ex is going to be angry, shocked and panicked.  If he or she starts escalating the situation, you have to remove yourself.  Say that you’ll call later when you’re both calmer, and you don’t want the relationship to end with you two screaming at each other.

If you’re breaking up with someone because that person is dangerous, violent or incredibly manipulative, don’t let him or her manipulate you out of your position.  Remember that’s why you’re leaving in the first place!  If he or she says, “I’m going to kill myself if you leave,” you should call 911, a relative, or a friend.  But don’t be manipulated.

Be honest.  If he or she asks you questions, answer them.  Be kind, but be honest.  Don’t go through a 15-page list of why you’re breaking things off.  Don’t give a million details.  Don’t argue or try to prove yourself.  That’s just mean and trite.  Boil it down to what I call the essential problem.  Just say, “We’ve had so many experiences together, but I’ve realized that we’re not compatible in ways that are important to me.  Our values and ideals, what we want and enjoy in life, and what we expect from each other are just not in sync.”  That covers territory without condemnation.

Don’t try to stay friends.  Frankly, you’re not friends, and you can’t go back to being friends.  When your ex asks to remain friends, he or she is expressing a desire to hold on to you.  He or she is always going to want back what you’re taking away.  You really can’t keep going through the death throes again and again.

So, if you really are going to break up with someone, do it with class, do it with dignity, and do it with respect.  Don’t screw around on somebody beforehand, don’t ignore them, and don’t play terrible games.  Otherwise, you’re a creep.

Why It’s Important to Eat with Your Kids

Some years back, I remember a television actor making a public service announcement suggesting that parents have dinner with their kids maybe once or twice a week.  I was flabbergasted – there actually had to be a public service announcement to tell people this?!

Then I realized that in our society, we probably do.  The notion of mommies and daddies, home and hearth, and meals with your own kids are becoming less and less the portrait of America. 

According to a study, “The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her child.” 

Let me repeat that: Only 38.5 minutes in an entire week!

By simply eating dinner together each night and making an effort to talk to your kids, you can quadruple that number.  You’ll get to know your kids.  Isn’t that the point of having a family?

According to Harvard research, “Family dinners are more important than play, story time, and other family events in the development of a child’s vocabulary.”  The dinner table is the social center of families, so it is no wonder that’s where our kids learn to talk. It gives them “real live” demos and practice in speech and social interactions.

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show that frequent family meals are associated with “a lower risk of smoking, drinking, pot use, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.   Kids between the ages of 11 and 18 also get better grades.”  Wow.  All of that is helped just by having dinner every night with your kids?!

The archives also reveal that family meals are “related to better nutritional intake and decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices.  Families eating meals together ‘every day’ generally consume higher amounts of important nutrients [such as] calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E, and consume less overall fat compared to families who ‘never’ or ‘only sometimes’ eat meals together.”  This is probably because mommy cooked dinner.

Additionally, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that “the more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less time they spend with boyfriends or girlfriends, and the less they are going to be sexually active.”  Not only do your kids have less time to hang out, but having a really good relationship with you makes them less likely to search for closeness by becoming sexually active.  This is why you see a lot of young sexual activity in divorced families where mommy decided she didn’t need a man.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota also showed that “adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders.”  When I read that, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family.  During my last couple years of high school, I went down the anorexia path.  We had dinner every night as a family, but it was a nightmare because my mom and dad were always angry about something.  The atmosphere at dinner was not pleasant.  So, it’s not just being at home that makes the difference.  You have to make family dinners a good experience. 

Another survey asked kids, “What’s the most important part of the dinner?”   What do you think their answers were?  The food?  No!  54 percent said the important part of dinner was sharing, catching up, talking, and interacting. 

The surveyors also asked teens, “Would you say your parents regularly make time to check-in with you and find out what’s happening with you or not?”  Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, teens who have infrequent family dinners were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to report that their parents don’t bother to check-in with them.  Teens who have frequent family dinners are twice as likely to spend 21 hours or more per week (an average of at least 3 hours per day) with their parents.

The bottom line?  Your family structure and dynamic affects your kids, especially at dinnertime.    

The Harsh Reality of Obsessive Exes

Over the years, every time I have told somebody they are in danger, they don’t want to hear it.  But it happens.  And so I’m going to impale it on your minds even more.  Here are just a few stories from the recent past:

1. A woman in Amsterdam was accused of stalking her ex-boyfriend for allegedly calling him 65,000 times in the past year.  After he filed a complaint with the police due to the excessive calls, the police arrested the woman and she argued she had a relationship with this man and didn’t see her calls to be excessive.  The man denied them ever having a relationship.

2. A British man bombarded his ex-girlfriend via email and Facebook messages asking her to take him back.  He set up a series of blogs warning people about her.  He was finally jailed for admitting he violated his restraining order.

3. A dumped lover in the Bronx hired his own cousin to kill his teenage girlfriend and tried to cover it up as a botched robbery.   He paid his cousin $1,000 to shoot the teenage girlfriend.  The ex-boyfriend warned if he couldn’t have her, then nobody could.  The girl was found shot dead with their baby in a car.

Those are just some of the thousands of stories.  When people get vengeful, they get obsessed; the ego can’t take the bruising and they want to control.  There are some people who are unable and unwilling to let go after a breakup. 

At first it seems they are, obviously, emotionally hurt.  That’s understandable.  They call, they visit, they keep arguing and try to reconcile.  Well that all sounds reasonable.  Then they’re following, stalking or threatening.  Then they vandalize belongings, which escalates to personal violence, and maybe even killing the partner’s pets.  If this isn’t dealt with and gets extreme, there can be kidnappings and killing of children, as well as murder and/or suicide.  This “obsessive-ex” syndrome is rampant.  Media usually report it by breaking it up into little pieces describing individual incidents only when they reach an extreme, instead of acknowledging the overall picture.  This obsessive-ex syndrome is not gender specific.  It usually doesn’t just go away.  Over one million women and 300,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. 

Stalking by definition is not a onetime act.  The course of conduct may involve a whole bunch of criminal acts. Taken one at a time they’re annoying but there definitely is a pattern.  Here’s a list of some of the stalking behaviors for you to look out for:

1. Assaulting the victim
2. Violating protective borders
3. Sexual assault
4. Vandalizing your property
5. Burglarizing your home
6. Threatening you
7. Killing your pet
8. Sending “forever” cards and gifts
9. Leaving telephone or email messages for you again and again and again
10. Disclosing to you personal stuff that they have found out
11. Telling a lot of people personal stuff about you
12. Following you
13. Going to your work or school…Just showing up
14. Sending photographs of you without consent
15. Monitoring your Internet history and computer usage
16. Using technology to gather images and information about you

This can be potentially fatal for you.  One of the reasons they do this is because they perceive you as weak and they say they want you back,  but really it’s their ego that needs saving.  It’s too dangerous.

How To Say You’re Sorry

There is an effective way to apologize and an ineffective way. 

Here are some ineffective ways:

1. I’m sorry.

That’s it.  That’s it?  It’s kind of shallow and superficial.  If you say “I’m sorry you felt upset,” that puts the blame on the injured party.  If you say “I’m sorry YOU felt upset,” that means you aren’t taking responsibility for your actions.  That just says you got upset and I’m sorry that you got upset, but it’s not my problem!

2.  I’m sorry if I did something to offend you.

Ouch.  The “if” word is a stab in the heart.  It’s pretty defensive, and not “owning” it.  It’s qualifying the apology.  Any apology with a qualifier in it is not really an apology.

I particularly remember this one, because I was in a situation where I used this and blew it.  I made a terrible mistake early on in my psychotherapy practice.  I used this line with a patient.  She didn’t say anything, but the next week, she came back furious.  I guess I was being defensive and didn’t realize it.  So, even the pros do it.

3.  If it will make you feel better, I’m sorry.

Whoa!  This one is so insincere that it literally drips insincerity.  What you’re really saying is “If it will make you feel better (you stupid, weak, annoying idiot), then I’m sorry.  Yikes!

4.  I’m sorry for whatever I did.

This is one that too many husbands try to use, but then too many wives don’t communicate particulars!  This one is a bit vague and non-specific.

5. Any and all apologies followed by the word “but…”

This apology reminds me of a funny thing that happened in a psychotherapy session.  I sometimes get a little playful with words and images, so when I had a husband and wife in therapy, and every time the wife opened her mouth, she said “but, but, but, but,” I said back “you’re a ‘but’ with feet!”  She went through the roof, because she thought I called her an ass.  I guess I should have watched the way I worded that comment.  I wasn’t sensitive and got a little too playful at the wrong time.

That example segues into how to apologize correctly.

First of all, you personalize your apology.  “I am sorry I hurt you.”  Anything that is personal is felt more deeply.  That needs to grow into “I’m sorry I hurt you by breaking my promise….” or whatever you did.

The third part of the apology occurs when you show you really understand why this was upsetting – you’re not only acknowledging that it was upsetting but also why it was upsetting.  “I’m sorry I hurt you by breaking my promise to call.”  You are justifying their being upset.  You elaborate on all the hurtful aspects of what you said that you’re aware of, and then you again express regret and remorse.  “I am so sorry  I have hurt you.  I take full responsibility.  I did this and I regret it.  I have remorse.  I was being selfish and flighty.  I was insensitive.”

It’s really then important to express some desire to make amends.  Discuss what you are going to do inside your heart, soul, life, mind, and habits to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  And repeat your apology as often as needed, especially for bigger wounds. 

After things have settled down, and some time has gone by, you might want to talk about some mitigating circumstances, but in general, I wouldn’t suggest you go in that direction until the pain has subsided to a much lower level.  And don’t use the excuse “I had a few too many drinks.”  You still did what you did. 

If you are going to apologize, make it sincere or don’t bother.