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Effective ApologyTexas attorney Dick Price recently posted a comment on his blog regarding the effects of a powerful apology on filing divorce papers. In it, Price said the following: “As you may know, divorces are often very emotional experiences. It is also true that while generally both parties are at fault for the breakup of the marriage, often only one of the parties recognizes his or her underlying mistakes that led to the breakup. In many ways, it would probably be beneficial to the emotional health of the parties, and the bottom line financially, if one or both of the parties could and would apologize for at least some of the wrongs inflicted on the other party during the marriage.”

Price’s point is a good one, if not a little impractical when two people are busy waging emotional war against each another. We often say the words, “Well, I’m not perfect, but…”

No. No ‘Buts.’ 

We never get to those apologies because we’re too quick to move beyond that one little three-letter word. So you’re not perfect? How are you not perfect?

Something individuals who decide to file for divorce (or in the midst of a divorce) need to do to avoid costly and extended proceedings is to spend a little more time answering that question. By looking inward at the things you don’t do so well, you can make a meaningful apology, and that immediately cuts your conflict in half, thus paving the way for constructive conversation.

Apologies are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign that you have the strength of character to analyze what went wrong and take the necessary steps to fix it. Even if your spouse is unwilling to do the same — even if your spouse bears more of the blame for the divorce forms — you shouldn’t be so quick to rule out an apology.

In many cases, it can be just what is needed to get the other person to do the same and you both working together for a solution that isn’t so expensive and destructive.

Full Vs. Partial

In response to the Price post, legal professional Norma Trusch shared her own experiences with the power of apology:

“This reminded me of a fascinating lecture I heard given by Lee Taft, a former certified trial specialist and graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, at the 2010 Collaborative Law Course sponsored by the State Bar of Texas and the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas. In his lecture, Taft differentiated between ‘partial’ and ‘full’ apologies. In a ‘partial’ apology, he writes, the offending party expresses sympathy for the wronged party, but does not accept responsibility for the event that caused the injury or wrong. He goes on to say that a ‘full’ apology includes the expression of sympathy contained in the partial apology but, importantly, adds an acknowledgment of responsibility.”

Trusch continued: “He cites Richard Nixon’s resignation statement as what he calls a ‘botched’ apology — i.e., one that not only fails to communicate the offender’s remorse but creates further harm that can strain relationships and fuel vengeance.”

In Summary

As Trusch points out, merely accepting full responsibility for something won’t be enough (or may not be enough) if the apologizer wants to reconcile. “For that there must be forgiveness by the wounded party, which Taft suggests is only possible when there is what Taft calls ‘authentically performed repentance.’”

Have you and your spouse taken a good look at your culpabilities in the divorce? If so, you may not be able to save the marriage, but you can be sure that the divorce forms go through more smoothly and peacefully.

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