Apologizing After Interpersonal Violence: How to Repair the Relationship

abusive relationship

When domestic violence happens, how can the relationship damage be repaired?

What is worse after having a situation where interpersonal violence happens?
No way to deny it: the fist hitting a face, the slap, or the push that throws a weaker person against the wall….this ugly reality is there and can’t be denied.
What is worse is the silence that follows the attack and the pretense that “nothing has happened”!

A personal experience

Susan H. explained her first experience suffering a violent attack from her new husband:

My husband’s aggressive behavior towards me has been a persistent issue in our marriage, and it started just a few weeks after we got married. He would give me the silent treatment for days and continued to be nasty even after I asked him what was wrong. The physical abuse escalated three months into our marriage, with one instance involving him choking me.  He threw me on the bed and started choking me. I was crying and pleading for him to stop!

Despite my attempts to address the problems and communicate with him, he never accepted responsibility or gave me a truthful explanation. He refused to talk about the issues and would just shake his head or look away silently. This lack of communication and accountability has caused me immense distress and continues to burden our relationship. He just looks at me with no response when I remember things from the past like being disrespectful or inconsiderate in public.  He never answers my questions nor gives a response to the truth I speak about to him. He just looks at me or looks away silently shaking his head. No talk, no apology whatsoever!

Given the real need for a good apology to repair the hurt, how do we do a good one?

We are going to apply a very complete apology model to an intervention in which a husband has to apologize for using violence with his wife. In the normal state of affairs, marital violence is not followed by any apology. We can expect vague accusations that make the victim responsible for the attack, as in:
“You provoked me…”

“You knew I was tired but insisted on asking me to do things I don’t want to do…
Or perhaps, if the pressure produced by her devastation is strong enough, a brief, “sorry, I overreacted” can be heard.

We are fast to “forget the hurt” and go back to normal

Thus, normal life goes on, while a wide gap of mistrust is permanently opened between the parties.  We know that interpersonal violence is a serious crime. It destroys the boundaries of the victim’s self-respect and makes her feel humiliated and scared. A bond of love and protection has instantaneously transformed into one of fear, control, and implicit submission.  We also know that the only bridge over the hurt is a genuine apology that could restore trust and respect.
How impossible such an apology would be?
First, let’s look at the real apology model,
Second we will apply it to a domestic violence reparation intent,
And later, we will ask the right questions about how and when to demand it.

How do we know when an apology is sincere?

So what makes one apology potent and another, a weak substitute, far away from a genuine deeply felt regret?
Roy Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University (and author of a popular negotiation textbook), and two colleagues have identified six ingredients that go into an apology that seriously intends to repair the hurt done:

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

Let’s look at the two components in bold:

Acknowledgment of responsibility:

Says Lewicki, “Our findings showed that the most important component is number 3): an acknowledgment of responsibility. Say ” it is your fault, that you made a mistake, as soon as you can.”

5.- Offer of repair:

One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage.”

Expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong, and declaration of repentance all carried similar weight and came in third in terms of importance to the receiver.

Request for forgiveness was the least effective ingredient and one concluded the researchers, that it could be skipped if necessary.

If you offer a good apology, there is still the chance that the other person can’t accept it now.

In other words, you cannot force your victim’s forgiveness even if you put together a good apology that includes points 3 and 5 (bitter aspects as they are).

The recipient of violence needs time and process to move on from the hurt of the attack, and it is impossible to determine when and if forgiveness can happen.

Trust is broken by using violence, and it takes a long time to rebuild.

The research:


NoraNora Femenia is a well-known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc. Get to know her blog and signup free to be connected to her innovative conflict solutions, positive suggestions, and life-changing Coaching sessions, along with blog updates, news, and more!

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