Relationship Skills: Respect and Apology

The song “Respect” has meant a great deal to many people.  Otis Redding wrote the song and Aretha Franklin performed it with her incredible, powerful talent.  Many people identify with this song.  The most powerful phrase in the song is, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”  In other words, we define respect according to our own perception of reality and it is the responsibility of each person in any relationship to state their definition of respect and to understand the other person’s definition of respect.  

How it Works

People accidently hurt others throughout their lives.  When one person treats another with a lack of respect, a problem is created. If the hurt person makes her feelings known, it is the responsibility of the person who hurt her to listen and understand the hurt person’s definition of respect. When the offending person takes time to listen to and empathize with the person she hurt, it is her responsibility to apologize in order to reconnect.  Apologizing is a relationship skill and an act of respect.

What it Means

The purpose of apologizing is to help people reconnect; to repair a hurt.  It is an important act in the creation of healthy relationships.  Some relationship experts believe that two of the most important words are, “I’m sorry.”  An individual who can recognize her own mistakes and use that phrase understands the value and power of humility.  Acting with humility and apologizing, does not mean one is weak or submissive.  It takes deep, genuine strength of character to be able to apologize.  Apologizing helps us mature.  When one offends another person, they have done something hurtful even if they did not intend to. Refusing to apologize often makes the hurt worse.

Blame and Scapegoating

When several people have a disagreement, it is the responsibility of all involved.  The act of blaming one person is refusing to accept responsibility and makes the problem worse.   Family systems theory describes this well and explains that blaming one person is “scapegoating” that person.  One person is held responsible for a problem that was created by two or more people.   This behavior leads to a lack of balance in relationships and problems get worse.  When all parties accept responsibility and think about what they could have done differently, amends can be made, respect returns and relationship is healed.  This is the work of growing in a relationship.  The ability to apologize is a mature act of respect.

Teaching Children

The best way to teach children anything is by setting a good example.  By doing.  When we treat our children with respect, they learn that this is the best way to treat others.  Parents are very human and all humans make mistakes.  It is vital for parents to treat their children with respect.  This involves understanding how children think, what their developmental level is, what they can or cannot understand.  And, most important, it involves apologizing to the child when we make a mistake that has hurt the child.

Cultural Differences

It is important to respect cultural differences.  Mistakes occur more frequently when we attempt to relate to a person who comes from a culture that differs from ours.  We are not born with the ability to think about or recognize those differences.  Often we learn that we’ve offended another person whose cultural background is different, after we have offended them.  The result is we have the opportunity to open our minds and, instead of blaming the other person, to stop, think, understand and apologize.  It is the power, integrity and quality of humility that allows us to do that.

Listening to Perspective

Deep listening to another person involves choosing to be open-minded and curious about the person.  To do this one must be able to let go of their need to defend or push their own perspective. After all, the perspective of reality is highly subjective.  Everyone can find people to agree with their own perspective.  We can always find articles and books to support our own perspective.  Creating space for different perspectives is much more challenging.  Cultivating the willingness to hear and learn from another person’s perspective is the part of how we mature.  Self-confrontation to make ourselves listen to, understand and empathize with another is how we grow.  We create a place of respect for other’s within our own mind and heart.  And the only person who can do that for us is ourselves.  This is the work of behaving with respect.

Why it Helps

In her 2008 book “Hold Me Tight”, relationship expert Susan Johnson points out that there can be as many as five elements in a sincere apology; we say we care about the other person’s feelings, we tell the other person we know their hurt is justified, we own up to our own hurtful behavior, we express that we feel guilt for our behavior and we reassure the other person we will do what we can to help them heal. When we apologize we communicate to the other person that we have a healthy conscience which will help the other person trust us. The ability to apologize is a trustworthy behavior.

Creating Relationships

Our universe is full of an incredible variety human beings.  Similarities and differences between people abound in every relationship.  Culture, gender, and age are a few obvious differences.  The creation of relatively healthy relationships involves self-awareness and acceptance of differences.  Genuine apologies are a loving, creative act of respect.


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