When Sorry Isn’t Enough

Sue felt frustrated and alone. She and Jack had just had another spat, again over something which to her seemed trivial. As of late conflicts were happening more and more frequently between them, with Jack taking longer and longer to get over them. As usual, Sue apologized hoping to end the conflict quickly. She would say she was sorry for her part in the situation, then want to move on. Jack on the other hand would always want to continue “the discussion”. This irritated her. She had apologized and didn’t want to talk about it any more. For her it was done. When Jack would begin telling her how her behaviour made him feel, she would almost instinctively shut it down as soon as possible. Something in the way Jack spoke to her unconsciously reminded her of how her mother used to lecture her when she was in trouble as a little girl for having misbehaved. Sue didn’t like it when her mother spoke to her this way, and there was no way she would let her husband do it. Still, the loneliness remained.

Jack also felt frustrated and alone. Despite his efforts to let things go, he was finding himself becoming increasingly cool toward Sue. He could see how his resentment was growing. Till recently he had always tried hard to “get over it”, yet every new situation would only remind him of all the past situations which were never discussed or resolved. Jack, who used to feel angry, was now starting to feel tired and hopeless. It seemed to him that Sue only wanted things her way; why else would she become angry and walk away whenever he started to talk about his feelings?

Sue and Jack are caught in a rut. Sue is a feeling avoider who becomes defensive whenever Jack tries to talk about his feelings. His discussion of feelings is threatening to her and so she walks out. This defensiveness on her part makes it impossible for them to “do business” as a couple with the result that they are unable to actually discuss and resolve issues. This inability to discuss feelings and resolve issues is causing tensions to rise and resentment to build. The result is that each has begun to draw back further from the other in an effort to avoid being hurt. Often Sue apologizes, believing that once having done so, Jack should drop it. His desire to continue the discussion seems to Sue that he is attempting to lecture and shame her the way her mother used to do. This causes Sue to see red and feel the need to stand up for herself by walking out. When this happens, the issue is dropped for the time being and a temporary peace is restored, only to be broken later when the same issue resurfaces in a different form. What ensues is a cyclical ‘on and off” pattern of reactive communication with each feeling increasingly angry and disconnected from the other.

Sue and Jack need to talk about their feelings to each other. Couples who do not talk about their feeling usually find themselves reacting to them. So long as the discussion stays respectful, neither should walk away from the discussion until both have fully acknowledged the thoughts and feelings of the other. If things get too heated during the process, both can agree to take a time out and return to the discussion later when each has had a chance to cool off. Coming back with an acknowledgement of the other person’s perspective is a good way to restart the discussion. It is possible that some discussions may require a few time outs to fully discuss the issue. This is okay as each will recognize the other’s effort to remain respectful and is assured that the issue will not just be dropped, but will be worked through to completion. If however there seems to be more time outs than actual discussion time, it is possible that the issue being discussed is in fact not the real issue at all, but that something deeper is at the root of the conflict. When this becomes apparent, it is time to get help from a counsellor.

In conclusion, Sue has past issues from her childhood which are affecting her current relationship with Jack. Unless she and Jack begin to share and acknowledge feelings with each other, it is likely that that their relationship will continue to deteriorate. Discussing feelings is an essential part of a health relationship. Without this discussion of feelings, saying “sorry” simply isn’t enough.

When Sorry Isn’t Enough
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Don Lasell is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and is a member of the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors. Don specializes in working with families having children with special needs and anxiety. His areas of special interest include anxiety, depression, stress, self-esteem, couple and family issues. Don utilizes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as Eye Movement and Reprocessing (EMDR) in his counselling work. In addition to counselling, Don also offers presentations and workshops on a variety of issues related to children, marriage and family.

Don obtained his Masters in Marital and Family Counselling in 1994 through the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. Don is also a former teacher who has taught in an integrated classroom setting, has been a high school counsellor as well as the Director of Clinical Services for a large not-for-profit agency in the lower mainland. In addition to his work in private practice, Don is also a former peer reviewer for the Council on Accreditation.

Don is married to Tanya with whom he is the parent of seven children, two of which are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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