“If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.” – G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With The World

Couples that come to me for help often are struggling with their differences. Many are under the illusion that a happy relationship demands compatibility. “We’re just too different,” they will assert. They become stuck in a cycle of disappointment because they believe they must be more alike in order to love each other and appreciate each other. They ask themselves, “Why can’t my spouse think like I do?” They miss opportunities to learn from each other and grow. They hold their differences in contempt rather than embracing and respecting them.

Often, what partners are really seeking is empathy. They are mistaking a desire for empathy as a desire for “sameness.” In reality, it was their differences that likely attracted them to each other in the first place. Now, due to lack of empathy and contempt, those attractions have become annoyances. They allow their disappointments to wound their friendship. Hence, they can’t “fight through” as a team and survive their incompatibilities.

Accepting an apology

An apology is a gift, if it is genuinely heartfelt. And the way to accept a gift is with appreciation. When we have been hurt, it can be difficult to let go of the pain, the anger and the grudge. We won’t be able to accept the gift of an apology while clinging to a grudge. So, we must manage our anger, let go of the bitterness and choose forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. It is the decision to let go of a grudge and stop carrying it around. It is an act of the will. It is a cooperation with the healing process. The proper response to a sincere apology is to say, “Thank you.”

Forgiveness must not be confused with trust, however. An apology merely begins the process of rebuilding trust. Trust only returns after enough trustworthy behavior has been demonstrated. Therefore, accepting an apology is a way of saying, “I’m willing to start the process of rebuilding trust between us.” It doesn’t mean, “I trust you because you apologized.”

An apology requires vulnerability. Don’t use that vulnerability as an opportunity to cause more hurt. Don’t “rub it in.” Appreciate the gift. Accept the vulnerability in good faith and participate in healing the wound.