Hi, Carolyn: I hope you can help me form a script or change my perspective on my husband's annoying habit. He apologizes for too many things that aren't apology-worthy offenses, "to be polite," but goes so far as to make things uncomfortable for me.
Today he apologized for having work deadlines he needed to focus on, for tossing me a binky at my request that I failed to catch and for the baby waking up early. Seriously.
Carolyn, I'm tired of reassuring him these things are okay. It makes me sound like a shrew, but each time I perform this little bit of emotional labor, it feels more exhausting. I want him to stop. I want him to apologize for something big and damaging to our relationship — rare between us, thankfully — and drop the constant apologies for nothing.
This also makes me feel like he thinks I AM some shrew he needs to placate constantly. Does he think I blame him if I don't catch something he tosses? Does he think I consider him a bad partner if he works part of the weekend? He'll even ask me permission for things as if I were in a position or of a temperament to refuse, like going to dinner with his dad. I have told him he can just tell me what he plans to do and doesn't need to frame it as a request for leave, like our family were an army and I were the C.O. It doesn't seem to sink in.
What can I say to get him to understand when I ask him not to apologize all the time? Or, what's wrong in my attitude that I can work on?
Anonymous: When a friend’s pet dies, I say I’m sorry.
Doesn’t mean I killed the dog.
That’s a perspective-adjustment available to you: to hear “I’m sorry that happened” vs. “I’m sorry I did that.”
If you embrace this change of interpretation fully — and by that I mean, letting go fully of any trace of any hope your husband will change the way he responds to things — then it can solve your problem like flipping a switch.
There is no reassurance necessary for someone who’s just saying he’s sorry X happened. All you need is one response from the no-big-deal box. As in: “No biggie,” “That’s okay,” “No worries,” “I’ll live,” [shrug], “Thanks.”
You could opt out of reassurances regardless. He’s not asking you to reassure him, right? It’s just your knee-jerk response to “I’m sorry”? So, you can retrain yourself to respond in less emotionally taxing ways.
As for the asking whether it’s okay to make plans with his dad vs. telling you he’s going to make plans with his dad, bless him. Really. It does not mean you are the boss of the world who must clear all things. It means you’re two people living by a shared schedule — with a baby! And such interdependence means it’s wise and generous to check for conflicts — which is different from asking permission, but with identical phrasing: “Okay if I see my dad Wednesday night?”
So, go ahead, decide to hear what you want to hear from your husband — see if it’s already there, waiting to be understood.
If not, then good counseling . . . or read Sartre for free.