Most people don’t know how to apologize. I admit that I never did until about 3 months ago. I learned how to do it as a part of trying to learn how to reconcile my marriage. See if this sounds familiar: you do something that hurts someone’s feelings, then you apologize by saying “I’m sorry.” They’re still mad at you, and you don’t get it. After all, you said you were sorry, right?
Well, that just doesn’t cut it. A good apology thinks through the feelings the offended person has experienced, and then articulates them from a first-person point of view. A well thought out apology will seem as though you have actually lived through the pain the other person experienced as a result of your actions because, well, you will have done that if you really had thought it through. I did give my wife one such apology back in December, and it was a very emotional experience for the both of us.
This is all a long-winded introduction to the events visited upon me today.
My wife came home mid-morning. I was out running some errands, and, when I arrived back home, I could hear the dog barking, so I knew she had come back. I didn’t quite expect to find her in the house, but there she was. Her jacket was on the couch, and she was in her office. She greeted me cordially enough. She looked haggard and puffy-eyed, and it seemed to me as though she had been crying. I asked her if she was okay, and she assured me she was fine.
I had taken care to stock the kitchen with stuff she likes while she was gone: green bananas (she hates them when they’re ripe), Japanese bread, some stinky double-cream French cheese, prosciutto, potato chips, and so on. She had already eaten one of the bananas, and was toasting a piece of the bread, which she then topped with some fig spread, that stinky cheese, and prosciutto. I made us some coffee, and we chatted a bit. I told her I had a proposition for her finishing her dissertation: I’d help her to form a “container” for that activity, by helping her to create the right habits to bring it to fruition. This would include me mentoring her through the process, and part of that would include her going to the university library every day to work for a period of time. I’d give her daily assignments, would edit her work, we could plan beforehand and discuss afterwards. She thought this was a good idea, but she’d need to think about it. She said she couldn’t commit to seeing me every day. I told her this wasn’t about her seeing me, but rather about her finishing her dissertation, and that basically was true. (Okay, I confess: a side product of this would be that we would spend time together.) The point I was trying to make to her was the she needed to form the proper habits, and that this takes consistency and dedication. No days off. She just has to do something every day for at least 21 days. If we were to start on Monday, that would take us to the end of the month, and I assured her that she would not only see progress, but she’d see positive changes in her life as well. Still, she needed to think about it.
Still, she was behaving a bit weirdly. She told me she needed to take a nap, so I let her do that while I was cooking lunch. She eventually emerged, and seemed rather teary-eyed. Somehow I felt that something was up, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. She needed to take the bus to a gig, and I offered to give her a ride, at least to the bus transit center. She agreed. I noticed before we left that there was a card on her desk, and I kind of wondered what that was all about. We left, and stopped off at a cafe near the transit center where she would wait for the bus to arrive. I bought her a coffee. Things seemed okay.
Fast forward to my drive home from work. My mind started racing, running wild. I began to think about that envelope on her desk, what it might contain. Was it a letter from the adulterer? Was it an admission from her about their affair still going on? Could it be something else? I just felt the worst was on its way. I have a wrist mala that I wear because I find my drive time occasionally useful for reciting mantras and such. So I put that mala in my hand and started reciting mantras. I probably did a couple of hundred by the time I got home.
There was nothing on the dining room table. This is normally where she’d leave notes. The dog was home, so that was a good sign. I went into her office — the answering machine is there, so I pretty much have to go in to check it — and saw the envelope on her desk was addressed to me. Inside there was a card with a four-page letter. It wasn’t really much more than a litany of ineffectual apologies (see the opening paragraphs) and rationalizations. I got the sense from the letter, which she had clearly put a lot of effort into, that she is really digging her heels right now. One of the things she expressed was that she felt like she had given me a false sense of hope that we might reconcile, and that I might be successful if I just waited things out.
This is par for the course, to my understanding. The obstinate spouse is going to do whatever they can to trip you up, to get you to give up, to get you to just go away and leave them alone. Clearly nothing she had done to this point had been successful in getting me to be a jerk, which is also a golden behavior for the obstinate spouse to see. So basically she needed to express to me her belief that there is absolutely no hope for reconciliation. But she did it in a thoroughly bizarre and incoherent way: she spent entire paragraphs expressing gratitude to me and my family. She also wrote statements asserting that, as a result of her following this new path — a path that she realized I would find hard to understand — our relationship would somehow be transformed into something much better and more peaceful. She even went so far as to say that I am her truest friend.
I honestly took this a bit hard at first, and was kind of freaked out. My first thoughts were that this was a prelude to finding out that maybe she had filed against me or something. That might be possible, but I haven’t seen any evidence of such from our bank accounts, unless she has used some of her purloined emergency cash for this purpose. (Somehow I doubt it, though.) But then the feelings passed, and I realized that all I need to do is just to stay the course. She is doing her utmost to try to just get me to give up. She did not have the guts to talk to me, probably because I’d just stand my ground and stick up for our marriage. I do believe that other people put her up to this. Those people likely include the “energy worker,” the adulterer, and the friends she is currently staying with.
You know, it’s weird: we call them obstinate spouses because they won’t budge from their positions that would have them destroying the marriage. But those of us who are sticking up for the marriage are equally obstinate in a way. We are convinced that staying married is the right thing to do, especially when there hasn’t been an sincere and thorough effort to work through problems and to arrive at some sort of beginnings of reconciliation.
Call it sticking up for love. That can’t be all wrong. Love is nobody’s fool.