Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
I had a major bust up with my partner a couple of months ago where I said some really inappropriate things which I sincerely regret. Later, I realized that I was in the wrong and I apologized and I even sent her some flowers and a card. She accepted my apology but since then she’s been very distant and even cold towards me. I’m trying to do the right thing by her but it’s like she’s waiting for me to blow up again. Have I ‘blown it’, or can we rebuild this relationship?

You did well to recognize your mistake and to apologize; you did even better to go another step and back up your words with action. This is a great first step. It’s not too late for you to complete the job you’ve begun.

What you need to consider now is the reality of your partner; her feelings and responses are the basis for how she will choose to rectify the situation. She may forgive you and move forward; she may decide to hold a grudge, nurse her feelings and discount your future intentions; she may decide to wait a while to see if she can feel safe once more.

Ron MCMillan of Crucial Skills offers a useful metaphor for this situation. He suggests that your efforts can be likened to pebbles which are dropped into a pool of water. The water represents distrust and suspicion; it can be deep and it’s everywhere. You’re hoping to build a pile of pebbles that will build up and rise above the surface – representing a new focus for your ongoing relationship. Instead the pebbles just seem to sink to the bottom and have no real cohesion; they’re just dispersed across the bottom of the pool.

What you need to do here is to focus and thereby limit the suspicion which feeds the distrust; this means you must create a context for your relationship which will capture and concentrate the pebbles and make them count. In effect it’s like putting the water (distrust and suspicion) into a container; the container clearly represents the area of specific concern.

The conversation might go like this: "Two months ago we had a misunderstanding and at that time I said several things which were inappropriate, such as . . . I’ve apologized to you, retracted the statements fully and asked for your forgiveness.”

Then you continue with your objective, "I’m hoping that you and I can restore our warm / caring / personal / respectful / professional relationship going forward.

Finally, you create the ‘container’ of commitment for which you will hold yourself fully accountable, "In the future you can expect that I will manage my emotions, be sensitive to your feelings and respectful of your rights. I will do all I can to avoid further misunderstandings and to protect our relationship / interests.”

You do not need a corresponding commitment from her – your word is your covenant. If she should choose to offer one, then that’s ‘double strength’ but unnecessary, so neither expect nor demand it. You are handing her the container and, if you handled this initiative well, she’ll even help you by putting some of the pebbles in herself.

I hope this helps.