Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.19.16 PMRecently my husband and I were listening to a New Hampshire Public Radio broadcast about the dreadful apologies political and celebrity figures offered to the public after they had committed some indefensible crime. The panel discussed why many of those apologies were considered bogus or insincere.

Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem and a contributor to this NPR feature offered the following statement about the important ingredients in a meaningful apology. He suggests that a guilty party should offer:

1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement. 

2. An expression of regret for what happened. 

3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated. 

4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of our actions on the other person.

5. A request for forgiveness.

The discussion made me think about how couples sometimes handle apologies to their mates. Because retired couples generally spend a great deal more time together, the occurrence of what one friend has labeled piss off occasions increases incrementally. Unfortunately our ability to offer sincere apologies for something doesn’t always increase to the same degree, but Winch’s five components offer good suggestions.

Number three on his list (an acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated) is a suggestion that could be particularly helpful to retired couples. While one partner might feel that he or she has done nothing wrong, it’s possible that the other partner views a particular action as contrary to his or her expectations. This is often true when a partner has managed to ignore his or her partner’s annoying habit for many years but now finds difficulty coping with on a daily––or even hourly—basis. One mate is confused––the other is annoyed—what to do?

Now that couples are together more often in retirement, realizing that our partner’s expectations may change can prove enormously helpful to the relationship. What might have been OK for many years may change because he or she simply did not have time to notice before. In short, it generally proves more helpful to remember that we do live in a changing world, and the more we strive to adapt, the happier we generally are.

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