According to Cardinal John Henry Newman, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Hopefully, we grow not only in response to changing conditions but also in recognition of “mistakes” we have made in the past. Regrets of ways in which we may have hurt someone we love, or damaged our relationship with them, can be the most troubling. Recognizing such errors can be a big first step towards repair and showing your love.
What mistakes need recognition?
- Failures to do something. Did you make a promise and fail to keep it? Did you volunteer for a task and then not do it? Did you lead someone to rely on you and then fail to Show Up as pledged? In The Little Prince, the fox explains that the source of attachment — “taming” — lies in creating reliable expectations of connection and responsiveness. Failure to meet those expectations can feel like betrayal.
- Lying about doing something. Did you say you had made a phone call you never made? Followed up on an invoice that still sits ignored on your desk? Assure your loved one that you had made reservations or ordered a replacement part yet never done so?
Screwing it up. Did you make a date without first checking your loved one’s plans and commitments? Did you double-book an evening needed for a quiet recovery? Did you put dish-washing soap instead of dishwasher detergent into the dishwasher machine? Did you invite someone to join a group that had a reason be to “closed”?
- Impulsive actions. In your enthusiasm, did you commit to an event or task involving your loved one without checking with him or her first? Did you volunteer him or her to provide a service within their expertise but without permission from them? Did you speak about a plan that was meant to be a surprise?
- Hurtful behaviors. Did you ignore a request the loved one made clearly and directly? Fail to include the loved one without asking if he or she wanted to be included? “Forget” to check in when a check-in had been agreed to? Spend too much time in direct contact with someone else as though the loved one was not present? (See a recent article in Psychology Today “Listening to Jealousy.”)
How can you address a mistake?
- Acknowledge it and brainstorm a repair. The importance of “Accepting Responsibility” will be addressed in next Sunday’s post in this series. For now, once you own that you have erred, you and your loved one can explore possible repairs together.
- Redo or fix the error. Alternately, you can quietly fix what has been broken, when that is possible. Mop up the suds on the kitchen floor. Cancel the extra date you put on the calendar. Pay the surcharge to get the tickets in time.
- Do not lie further about it. Lies erode trust. They have a way of compounding damage.
Why does recognizing mistakes show love?
- It reflects trust, a belief that the loved one will be able to hear. If communication is not sufficiently reliable so that two people can count on each other to listen, then a primary repair — improving skills in listening to and hearing each other — is in order. Once responsive listening is part of the reliable process in the relationship, people can own their errors, foibles, impulsive actions, and recognize they may have caused inconvenience at the least and damage at the worst to the loved one and/or the relationship. Accurately diagnosing a problem helps find a way to productively address it.
- Recognizing mistakes can allow room for the loved one’s reactions to your missteps. Sometimes the loved one has every right to feel sad, hurt, angry, even abandoned. Good management of relationships between imperfect people — which we all are — allows space for each person to experience the full range of human emotions. Their expression may need to have “rules” — no hitting your sister, you need to tell her; no withdrawing because you are angry about the situation I put you in; no jealous rage because I was chatting with the woman at the airline desk, trying to get us onto the next flight. Emotions themselves inform. How we express them can be discretionary.
What “mistake” did you make recently that you regret? How did you and your loved one deal with it? Did you find a way to repair the damage? Did you form any guidelines for dealing with similar situations in the future?
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower First published on PsychologyToday.com, Life, Refracted