Can Saying 'I'm Sorry' Before Couples Go to Sleep Cause Divorce?

Ah, catchy title, right? I knew I'd hook you with that one. Seriously, though, I do have a point. A few years ago, I represented the wife in a fairly straight forward divorce action in which she was the Plaintiff (meaning she initiated the divorce). The couple had been married 27 years – happily, by all accounts – and nobody was more surprised by the divorce action than the husband. I can't say I found that revelation too surprising; it's not uncommon for one person to be happily married to the same person who is quite unhappily married to them. During a negotiation conference, the husband looked at his lawyer and said, "Every time we had a fight, in all those years, we always said we were sorry before we went to sleep for the night. I don't get it." Later, when I was alone with my client, I asked her about the 'I'm sorry' policy. I admit, it was more out of curiosity than any legal strategy I was devising but I did have an ulterior motive. I wondered who it was that usually said 'I'm sorry' and how many times she actually had done something to warrant making the apology. Ooh, I'm so darn intuitive. "I was taught that when couples fight," she explained, "someone always has to say 'I'm sorry' before they go to sleep because you should never go to sleep angry at each other." I'd heard that, too. I pressed on. "So", I asked, "your husband always apologized when he was wrong?" My client gave me a shocked look that suggested I'd just arrived from another planet. Then she laughed. Hard. "Goodness no," she sputtered between laughs, "he never once apologized. It was always me who had to end the fight." My theory was sound, I knew it. I told you I'm intuitive. "Why did you say 'I'm sorry' if you weren't sorry?" I asked, hoping for some piece of sage advice. "Because that was the only way to end the fight!" she retorted. As we continued the conversation, she admitted that her husband was always right, even when he was wrong. She apologized when she was wrong, she apologized when he was wrong and she apologized when neither of them happened to be wrong. She woke up 27 years (and a few thousand apologies) later and decided she'd had enough apologizing for one lifetime and promptly filed for divorce. I'm not a marriage counselor but for what it's worth, I do have a background in behavioral science and I was actually pursuing my M.S.W. when two of my graduate professors suggested that my fine oratory skills and knack for penning a compelling argument might make me a good candidate for law school. If I end up with an ulcer, it's their fault. But I digress. I thought about my client's response several times in the years that followed. Tonight, it hit me that I should make it the topic for a blog post. (It must be the marriage counselor in me). Here's my sage advice: If an apology isn't genuine, then it isn't an apology. Hey, what do you want for free? Okay, okay … Let's just call that the basics. I think we all agree on that. But when someone proffers apology after apology, year after tired year, a little bit of that person dies each time. In this case, Hubby went to bed satisfied that the fight was over – and that he was right, once again. The wife, conversely, went to bed all those nights knowing the fight hadn't been her fault and that she had nothing for which to be sorry. One apology lead to another and then another … then 27 years of apologies had taken a toll. What the wife ended up realizing is that each time she took the blame, she went to sleep angry. All that anger built inside her a drip at a time until the glass was so full, it became a waterfall of anger. That's when she called a divorce lawyer. I'm not suggesting that couples shouldn't ever apologize. What I am hoping is that if you're the one considering making the apology in the name of ending the fight before you go to sleep for the night, make sure it's a sincere apology. If not, you'll probably end up calling a divorce lawyer. ———— Disclaimer: The information, comments and links posted on the blog do not constitute legal advice. I will not respond to any specific legal questions in the comments section of this blog. Read my entire disclaimer. copyright 2011 Irene C. Olszewski

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