Hot sex? Mutual views on Boris’s ‘gatherings’? A similar take on rollmop herrings? I know all these are helpful in maintaining a romantic partnership, but there is a more crucial factor. One that I’m only learning the true importance of now, thanks to my midlife relationship journey. It is the ability to apologise– and apologise well.
Apparently, one of the keys to forging a successful bond is being able to hold your hand up and say ‘guilty as charged’.
A few days ago I made a bad judgment call. I had invited the boyfriend on a work trip, sure I could sneak him into my luxurious room once my hard graft was done. I peppered him with pictures of the pool and the spa. Talked about the drinks and the steak. Then, the day before the trip, I discovered that I was actually going to be bunking in with a friend and would have to retract the offer of a date night in a hotel.
So now I needed to say sorry for messing up, but the truth is I’m not great at the mea culpa. I’m brilliant at apologising when I don’t need to: I say, ‘Oops, my fault,’ when someone rams a supermarket trolley into my heels. I start far too many emails with ‘so sorry to take up your time’. If I found a burglar in my house I’d probably say I was sorry the place was such a tip. But when it comes to apologising for serious relationship stuff– the things that cause pain, disappointment, annoyance, mistrust –I shy away from the difficult conversations.
In my marriage-counselling sessions– those grim hours of endless tissues and wipe-clean seating – this emerged as one of my relationship failures. And though it was a bitter pill to swallow, I have to concede that I am, or was, at best a four out of ten when it came to saying sorry.
This not only affected my romantic relationships but friendships and family, too. When my dog left a deposit on my mother’s cream carpet, I recognise now that I should have faced the music and said sorry rather than just move the sofa to cover the stain.
But back to the hotel situation. The old me would have spent a lot of time justifying myself in a way that rather satisfyingly convinced me that I was not actually to blame at all. In fact, somehow, he was at fault. Then I would minimise the event, by saying, ‘It wasn’t that big a deal.’ I might even have thrown in some eye rolling. Perhaps I’d have deployed the worst kind of apology: a disingenuous one. You know, the politician’s favourite ‘sorry not sorry’. If I was really up against the wall I might say, ‘I’m sorry you took it that way.’ Or I might have taken my first boyfriend’s approach: ‘Just say sorry, but you don’t have to mean it.’
None of the above is big or clever, though, and I have now committed to becoming a reformed apologiser: I will take ownership, admit where I went wrong and what I’ll do to make amends. It’s not going to be pleasant. A bit like doing a spin class for the first time – sick-making and sweat-inducing.
I google ‘why we hate saying sorry’ and discover the experts say it’s because it threatens our sense of self; it goes to the very core of who we are and shines an unflattering light on it. Certainly, in the past, I’ve found it far easier to default to anger or defensiveness – that is a whole lot simpler than looking inwardly at your actions and finding them wanting. If there is someone for whom saying sorry doesn’t gnaw a little at their soul then they a) are the Dalai Lama or b) don’t really mean it.
An emphatic sorry can’t undo hurt but it can help the healing, offer reassurance and reparation. So this week I’m eating humble pie and hoping for forgiveness. Pray for me.
DAVID VENNI. STYLING: NICOLA ROSE. MAKE-UP: CAROLINE BARNES AT FRANK AGENCY. HAIR: ALEX SZABO AT CAROL HAYES MANAGEMENT