Poly means many: The art of the apology

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

Let me start by saying I’m delighted to be joining the Poly Means Many blogging project. This month’s topic is communication, something which we poly folk have to try to be good at by virtue of having so many people in our lives. The downside to having so many people in our lives, though, is there’s more scope to slip up when we communicate poorly. There’s more scope to hurt others, through carelessness, or through forgetfulness, or sometimes, just sometimes, by actually being a bit of a dick. There’s also a lot of scope for conflict, and while The Ethical Slut might have taught us to try to have our arguments calmly and constructively, that’s not always possible, because emotions are emotions and sometimes they’re incredibly powerful.

Basically, you’re going to mess up sometimes, and you’re going to hurt a person who you love when you do it. In these situations, it’s time for an apology.

We live in a climate where apologising is seen as a bad thing: if you apologise, you’ve somehow lost the argument while simultaneously confessing to be a bad, evil person who should go and live in Satan’s anus immediately. While poly folk tend to reject a lot of society’s conditioning, we were all born and live in this environment and as a result have internalised this negativity surrounding apologies. In fact, sometimes, due to living outside societal norms, we’re a little worse on this sort of thing: “I’m not going to apologise for who I am” can sometimes translate as “I’m never going to apologise for anything, ever”. I’ve had partners who were of this mindset. Needless to say, the relationships didn’t last very long.

Yet the apology is a necessary, essential component of being able to get along comfortably with others, a vital part of healthy communication. Whether you’re poly or not, we all need to get better at apologising.

The first thing we need to get good at thinking about is the fact that sometimes we may be wrong. Our brains aren’t exactly set up for being particularly good at accepting this, as the same brain that thought something wrong in the first place is having to process that it may be wrong, relying only on external clues, such as someone saying “You’re wrong”. On top of this, we’re conditioned with the idea that there is some sort of objective correctness, and by bringing out the correct amount of “proof”, you will somehow win the argument. In most cases, this simply isn’t true, and it’s a pretty unpleasant way of arguing as it tends to manifest as a litany of perceived faults.

Being aware of this conditioning is difficult, but being ready to accept that you’re wrong will absolutely revolutionise your life. Far from losing anything, you begin to win at life.

From this, you can move into being ready and willing to apologise where necessary. Obviously, you’ll need to apologise when you’re wrong, and if you’ve come to the understanding as to why you’re wrong, show an awareness of this. However, there’s also other situations when an apology is appropriate: most notably, when you have upset someone. Even if you’re in one of those incredibly rare situations where you are 100% objectively correct, or you have no intention of actually changing your behaviour, if you have upset a person you love, it’s good to apologise. Apologies in these situations denote that you understand that their feelings are valid, that you don’t think they’re unreasonable and irrational, and you understand that they are feeling bad and it’s something to do with you. Even if you’re right, it’s still not nice to make someone feel bad.

If things go well, maybe the other person will also apologise. And, while an apology does not necessarily constitute conflict resolution in and of itself, it’s a good place to start.

Being ready and willing to apologise and understand that you’re not always right is, obviously, a vital skill for negotiating and social environment; I’ve written about arguing and apologies before, from a political perspective, but this was always greatly informed by the way I live and love. When you’re poly, I feel it’s absolutely essential given the depth of the emotions involved. If you accept that love is a fluid, beautiful thing, ever-changing and ever-shifting, you’ve got no business being stubborn in your interactions with those partners, lovers and metamours who enrich your life.

We’ve all got a lot of things to unlearn that we’ve been bombarded with since birth, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of if you own your mistakes.

3 thoughts on “Poly means many: The art of the apology”

  1. I am a big fan of apologies. I know how they make people feel and so I often find myself looking for something to apologise for. Not in an unnecessary way though. For example, I can feel I’m perfectly right about what I said/did but still feel sorry that I caused such hurt.

    I think my job has helped a lot with this, as I have to deal with conflicting needs and wants all the time – smoothing over arguments and reassuring people that I do understand their point of view. Apologising for a badly phrased email can reassure someone that you really do care and have their best interests at heart. I hope I don’t over apologise though. I think I just have quite a lot of empathy!

    1. More than once, I’ve found myself in some sort of ludicrous apology-loop, where I’ve been told I don’t need to apologise so apologise for having apologised.

      Often, that ends with a laugh and a hug, and the tension broken at last 🙂

  2. First of all; “if you apologise, you’ve somehow lost the argument while simultaneously confessing to be a bad, evil person who should go and live in Satan’s anus immediately” is pretty much the best thing I’ve read today.

    Second, this pretty perfectly verbalizes how I feel about apologies and apologies within emotional and tense discussions. I work pretty hard at identifying where the bad things are that I can take some possession of in an argument or discussion, and point them out. I like being able to say, “This is what I’m sorry for” as I think it makes it worth so much more. And like you said, you don’t have to actually be WRONG to apologize, it can encapsulate so many different things, but the base of it is showing that you care about the person and don’t want them to hurt.


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