When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough

Have you ever received an apology you knew wasn’t genuine? The classic example is when a brother and sister are fighting and their mother makes them say “sorry.” The children’s eyes are downcast with furrowed brows. One is kicking the dirt beneath his shoe and the word “sorry” is more grunted than spoken. Each child knows that saying “sorry” is what’s required, but neither say it willingly.

Apologies are hard to give, except for when they come too easy. Today, we are going to talk about when “sorry” isn’t enough- when the hurt is so deep and the offense is so bad that a simple “sorry” is not going to cut it.

Years ago, I heard about a principle that changed the way I give and receive apologies. I call it The 20% Rule. It’s an old Jewish tradition. If your neighbor accidentally kills your $100 cow, they pay you for the value of the cow and then they add 1/5 of the value on top. The $100 is for the cow, and the $20 is to repair the relationship.

The 20% Rule takes into account not only the value of the cow, but also the value of the relationship. When your neighbor gives you 20% on top, it’s as if he was saying, “I’m really sorry about that cow, and I hope that we can still be friends.” The 20% is for the pain. The 20% is for the offense. The 20% is for the relationship breakdown.

If you’ve been hurt, offended or even betrayed, then you know how important “making amends” really is. But what does “Making Amends” look like? Feel like? Sound like? How do you know when Sorry is really sorry? How do you know if you can trust again? Here are some things to think about when you have been done wrong.

  • What is your cow worth? If you’ve been hurt, and the other party wants reconciliation, think of how much your cow is worth. The word “Sorry” is rarely enough for big hurts, so think of what you need to make it right. If it’s your spouse, will you require him/her to move into another room? Separate bank accounts? Commit to counseling? Find an extra job? Get into treatment for his/her addiction? Move out? Get some accountability? Your Cow is worth his/her effort to make things right. If you find he/she is not willing or able to make things right, replace what was lost, or take responsibility for his/her part, then you know that he/she is not ready for the relationship.

  • Hold out for your 20%. If your heart is hurting over the wrong that’s been done, that is a clear message that the relationship is still broken. It may not be severed, but it is broken. You will need a little extra to love again, to trust again, and to feel safe again. You can’t force these feelings, nor should you. It’s ok to take your time with healing, waiting and seeing, and keeping your verdict status as “out.” Your 20% may look like quality time together, or listening to your needs, or time for intimacy, or special gifts, or helping out with house or kids. You should see some extra effort so you feel valued again.
  • What will it take to trust again? Take time to list several things you need and want in order for you to trust your partner again. These things are specific to you and your needs. Your trust, more than anything has been shattered, and will take time and effort to heal.

What if the other person doesn’t replace the cow or cough up the 20%? What if he/she doesn’t see the necessity? What if the other person doesn’t hold the same value for the cow or the relationship? What is the person wants to buy you a goat or a chicken instead? Oh, this is a real pickle! Because it appears as though the person is sorry, and they talk as if they regret their actions, but when it comes to taking full responsibility and valuing the relationship, they just don’t. Their actions and their words are not congruent.  This is  a difficult spot for you to be in, because you may have to make serious decisions in order to value yourself, your cow, and your relationship. Only you know when enough is enough.

  • The bright side. Every bit of emotional and financial investment you put into your relationship adds up. Your relationship can become richer, deeper and more fulfilling when the 20% Rule rules the day. You can be at peace with your partner, and that although mistakes happen, forgiveness is possible. Intimacy is possible. Happiness will come back. Trust will come back. Couples who face betrayal and the path to forgiveness with these concepts as their guide, often come out stronger and better than before.

The 20% Rule is a great guide in reminding us all that the relationship is more important than the cow, that it’s ok to value yourself, and that investing in the relationship is worth it.

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