I Said I Was Sorry

by Mark Gun­gor on Octo­ber 5th, 2009

In my Laugh Your Way to a Bet­ter Mar­riage sem­i­nar I explain in detail how a man’s brain tends to com­part­men­tal­ize things. It’s like men have sep­a­rate boxes in their heads for every­thing: money, sex, kids, wife, in-laws, etc. And for a guy these boxes don’t touch. He thinks about one thing at a time and then moves on to the next thing since one box isn’t con­nected to another.

Then I go on to explain how a woman’s brain is like a big ball of wire where every­thing is con­nected to every­thing and there is no com­part­men­tal­iz­ing at all. Money can be con­nected to the in-laws and sex can be con­nected to the kids. Things can run together very eas­ily in a woman’s brain.

These two very oppo­site ways of think­ing and pro­cess­ing cause men and women to com­mu­ni­cate in very dif­fer­ent ways. There is one area this is par­tic­u­larly evi­dent and often problematic–the apol­ogy. Because men have this unique abil­ity to com­part­men­tal­ize, a guy can go to his “apol­ogy box”, say he’s sorry for some­thing he did, close that box and then move on to the next task or thing to think about. In his mind he took care of it, he said he was sorry, it’s done and life goes on.

Not so for a woman. When she has been crossed or hurt for some rea­son, the con­nec­tions in her brain make it impos­si­ble to com­part­men­tal­ize. She may attach all sorts of rea­sons, feel­ings, and ideas to that one inci­dent. While her hus­band has moved on to other ter­ri­tory, she hasn’t because it may take her some time to process her emo­tions and thoughts. So when a woman is still upset, sad or hurt for a cou­ple of days (some­times weeks depend­ing on the infrac­tion) it is often a puz­zle to the man. Guys will then per­ceive their wives as hold­ing onto a grudge, being unfor­giv­ing and unwill­ing to move on, and they can become very frus­trated. After all, he said he was sorry, why can’t she just get past it?

Because of the way women are wired with all these con­nec­tions in their brains, it’s more dif­fi­cult for them to get past the hurt. It’s actu­ally a really good thing for you guys because this is what allows her to put up with your non­sense! You mess up and say and do hurt­ful things and she’s still there because women have this abil­ity to form deep con­nec­tions. It truly works for men this way, but when you do some­thing extremely hurt­ful, it works against you; you will have to fix it, and that may take some time.

I hear tales all the time of men who have done hurt­ful things—huge things like hav­ing an affair or smaller things like say­ing some­thing very mean and spiteful—and then they say, “I’m sorry” and expect it all to go away. When it doesn’t these guys get upset and throw it back on their wives because his wife “can’t get over it”. It just doesn’t work that way for women. Men need to learn that push­ing her to “move on” isn’t the answer. The answer is for you to own the prob­lem that you created.

It’s not her prob­lem of unfor­give­ness. It’s not that she won’t accept your apol­ogy. She’s still hurt­ing and it’s going to take some time for her to get over it. Men see absolutely no con­nec­tion between the offense and the con­tin­ued emo­tions. It’s like they dropped the atomic bomb but don’t real­ize that there is fall­out beyond the ini­tial explo­sion that they will have to keep clean­ing up and deal­ing with. Men, when you hurt your wife and you see she’s still deal­ing with it, don’t you dare turn that around and put it on her. You look at your wife and say, “I see you are still hurt­ing. I under­stand this is still painful. I real­ize I did this to you. I’m sorry.” Then shut up! Don’t defend your­self, make excuses or blame her. Every time you see it, you own it. Even if you have to do it a 100 times. That’s just the way it is.

Remem­ber guys, when it comes to apolo­gies, there is no “apol­ogy box” in your wife’s brain. Don’t make the mis­take of think­ing or say­ing, “I said I was sorry! Just move on!” Don’t put the rap on her, or she will end up think­ing you are not sorry at all.



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