In my last post, I mainly discussed the public not-pology, but after posting that, I decided I really should elaborate on the personal not-pology, the kind of not-pology that occurs in relationships like marriage or friendship.
To set the scene, Spouse A is having a bad day (for whatever reason) and snaps at Spouse B. Perhaps Spouse A says, “Well, I don’t know why we’re still married.”
Spouse B, for some strange reason, is rather upset by this and demands an apology. If Spouse A replies “I’m sorry you were upset by what I said” then ding ding ding! We have a classic not-pology! It’s hardly better than refusing to apologize at all.
As I said in my last post, “I’m sorry you got upset at what I said” is not the same thing as “I’m sorry I said that” or “I’m sorry I upset you.”
Some folks will counter with the case of Spouse A saying something that’s misinterpreted by Spouse B. And certainly that happens plenty of times. When we’re upset, we don’t always choose our words carefully and they can imply things we didn’t mean.
But when Spouse B demands an apology and Spouse A says “I didn’t mean it that way,” well…we have a variation on the not-pology. Now they’re saying “I’m sorry you weren’t smart enough to understand what I was really saying” instead of a true apology along the lines of “I’m sorry I said something that upset you. I didn’t mean to say it that way.”
It’s a subtle but important difference. In the second case, Spouse A is acknowledging that Spouse B has been upset due to something Spouse A said. Spouse A can still explain what they meant (if there was a non-hurtful meaning intended) but to avoid the not-pology, they have to accept some fault in the matter rather than blaming the other spouse’s lack of comprehension.
Just as we need to purge the not-pology from public life, we need to do our best to avoid it in our private life. It’s hard, especially in the heat of the moment, to avoid the natural defensive response, but I think it’s worth a try.