How to apologize after using interpersonal violence?

couple fighting

When domestic violence happens, how to repair its damage to the relationship?

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, and the pretense that “nothing has happened”!

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 in 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. 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 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 real 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 demand it.

So what makes one apology potent and another, a weak substitute, far away from a true 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:

3.- Acknowledgment of responsibility: Says Lewicki, “Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement 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 could be skipped if necessary.

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

The recipient of violence needs time and process to move on from the hurt of the attack, and it is not possible to determine when and if the forgiveness can happen.

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


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