1. Offer the offended party space.
For many people, and particularly if the offended party is a loved one, the natural inclination will be to pull in closer … to become even more intimate in an attempt to ameliorate the damage caused.
This doesn’t really work.
We can begin anecdotally speaking … I’ve yet to meet the woman that was turned on, or cajoled, or coaxed, or even “bamboozled” by a quick talking apologetic. This particularly applies to any situation in which the damage (we’ll assume it’s verbal/emotional here) cuts deep.
That’s the ego speaking, and it’s wrong. It’s counterintuitive, but the truth is … when you’ve offended your significant other something awful – it’s time to give them space (it might be o.k. to squeeze in a very succinct and heartfelt apology if you do it the correct way) before you leave the room to let your stinker of a mistake blow over.
Fact: It will be painful. Every impulse will be toward charging back into the person with more apologetic fervor
Some Science: Even when everything’s normal, we’re still separate people, and there’s still a limit to how much we can make our partner feel better. There’s an emotional baseline (Bar-Kalifa & Rafaeli, 2015) that we all have (male or female). Our partner can cheer us up to a point, but beyond that, it’s up to them – and if you try too hard, you’ll hurt both parties.
Consequence: You, at best, annoy them, and at worst, terrify them … making things much worse. People with borderline personality disorder are, by clinical definition, not good at this “backing off” process.
2. Take some time to gain perspective, and think about what Heidegger had to say about relationships.
While you are furrowing your brow and tossing to-and-fro in agony, defuse for a moment and look into what some of the things the great philosopher Heidegger had to say on relationships.
Heidegger had a particularly useful word that described not only the type of “being” that occurs when we are in a relationship, but all types of being. With your new found free time (as you give the offended party their space), investigate what it means to be a person … and why you wanted to have that relationship in the first place.
Getting to the root of the reason, thinking rationally about it, might cool your heels a little bit. It might not be as easy as you thought to answer that question … and if you truly do engage the notion of Dasein (or the “being there” or the “presence”) … consider your relationship to all things: nature, the birds, your wider sphere of community … and especially (especially!) … the being of “being with yourself.” Being alone!
3. Reconsolidate your appreciation for said person … or “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”
This is intuitively true to most of us, but it’s also got some empirical basis as well.
Psychologists Crystal Jiang of the City University of Hong Kong and Jeffrey T. Hancock of Cornell University (2015) focused on couples who were forced to maintain their relationship at a great proximity from one another. Many of us might take for granted that the person we love most is around quite a bit … but that’s conditioning kicking in again.
It’s also an anecdotal truth that familiarity breeds contempt.
Jiang and Hancock (2015) saw that the couples who were forced to “engage in more frequent communication and discuss deeper issues, such as love, trust and future plans,” had communication that was deeper … more meaningful. It had to compensate for what it lacked (the simple things we can do with loved ones we’re near … physical intimacy, etc.)
These sort of long term/long distance relationships that sprout up over the internet are more and more common, and my personal hypothesis is that they’re based on core relationship values. The individuals must have beliefs, and even personalities, that click profoundly – or, obviously, it couldn’t survive.
Summary: Remember why you appreciate them.
4. As a segue way from #3 … sublimate (express) your newfound appreciation and love for the person in a tangible way … once enough time has elapsed.
Question: How do I know if enough time has elapsed … ?
Answer: It depends. If you haven’t burned your bridges forever, and if they did truly love (or at least liked you a lot) … they ought to exercise their own freedom like the proverbial “bird”. Once it’s set free, it will decide if and when it wants to return.
My personal opinion is that it’s ok to, after a reasonable amount of time has passed (reasonable depending on how bad what you did was … a week, a month …?) be the party to engage again.
And, when you do engage again, it’s ok to offer them this “sublimated” affection … whether it’s in the form of poetry, art, physical intimacy … that all depends on what you know your partner will appreciate, and what the most authentic way is for you to communicate your experience.
When I mess up, my favorite way to “sublimate” (express) is to use a combination of all of the above!
5. Now it’s time to talk seriously and openly about what happened.
Speaking from the perspective of a therapist … at some point you ought to discuss what happened, even if it was traumatizing.
Not everybody will be up for this or agree that it’s important or necessary to do this, but I do.
Communication obviously failed, trust was broken, emotions were frazzled … as human beings our most powerful tool is that of language. And, in this case, we must use our words to speak to our partner and “with” them in an honest way.
Who knows what might happen when you do … what’s important is the honesty part.
Zen Buddhist Philosopher and writer Adyashanti mentions in his book “The End of Your World”, that being truthful and honest falls in line with being and allowing vulnerability. In other words, one can’t exist without the other. Thus, when you’ve decided to get to the bottom of what really happened between the two of you … you’re entering the land of uncertainty.
What’s important is, you were brave enough, after all of this, to take the final step and to “hear” the other person tell you want they’re seeing and experiencing, and vice versa.
“Most people know, intuitively, if they were actually totally truthful and totally sincere and honest, they would no longer be able to control anybody.” pg. 64
Oh … you thought this article was about how to get “over” on somebody else … ?
That’s not a relationship worth having to begin with … and if that IS your outlook, maybe you ought to listen to the silence for a little while and come to terms with the Desein before you go out trying to find somebody else to plug the holes in your heart.