Q: I fear my husband has some disability in regard to apologizing. Monday was his birthday. I had a terrible cold, but put myself on enough meds to cook him a wonderful meal and dessert. I felt too sick for sex, so I offered up a, um, very personal massage, but he refused. Later, when I asked for a hug as we got into bed, he said, “I don’t think so.” The next day, he was grumpy and distant. When I finally called him on it, he said he was sexually frustrated (despite the fact that we usually have sex three times a week). The following day, he acted like everything was normal, but I still wanted an apology. I said, “It’d be nice if you’d give me a hug and say, ‘I really appreciate everything you did and I’m sorry for being grumpy.’” He got mad and stormed out, which is typical. The closest he ever comes to apologizing is angrily blurting out that he’s sorry.
A: Oh, boohoo, his sex vending machine was broken. He shook and shook it and all that tumbled out was a three-course meal and dessert.
Pledging to be there for your spouse “in sickness” is supposed to mean being there feeling their forehead for a temperature, not feeling under the blanket to see if they’re wearing panties. Likewise, appropriate remarks are “Can I bring you another box of tissues?” or “I’ll refill your vaporizer,” not “Rack up some sex, Sniffles!” This has to leave you wondering what happens if you get seriously ill. Do you wake up to him tapping your chemo tubing, “Ahem, Missy…we haven’t had sex since you had hair”?
Humans seem to have an evolutionary adaptation to help us guard against being chumped, a sort of inner police dog to see that we aren’t all give and give to people who are all take and take. When our sense of fairness is violated, we need a sign from the violator that we aren’t idiots to trust them in the future. An apology can’t undo a wrong that’s been done, but because it has ego costs for the apologizer (in admitting wrongdoing), it’s an offering that suggests that their future actions will be more partnerlike than selfishjerklike.
It takes a strong person to admit weakness. A person who’s immature, selfish, and insecure clings to the idea that love is never having to say you’re sorry, but occasionally needing to snarl it. A sincere apology involves admitting wrongdoing, expressing remorse, pledging that it won’t happen again, and making amends. Feeling remorse is an especially important element. A person who doesn’t feel bad about making you feel bad has no reason to feel bad about doing it again.
You can hope he’ll change, you can encourage him to change (I suggest enlisting a therapist trained by marriage researcher John Gottman, gottman.com). But, because criticizing a man with such a flimsy ego is like “putting out fire with gasoline,” right now, probably your most uncrazymaking approach to his little tantrums is laughing to yourself at what a big baby he is. From the “probably nice in theory” files, you could explain why an apology means so much to you and suggest making a pact to try to always behave like people who haven’t forgotten they love each other. But, consider whether you want to stay married to a man who dispenses affection on the barter system. Your husband’s having sex with you three times a week — unlike all the husbands who write me, longing to go from zero to three times a year. Yet, one night, you find yourself more in the mood for NyQuil, and there’s your man, standing his ground: “No humping? No hugging. The hug store is closed!”to remove their shortcomings,” it’s best if those shortcomings are things like impulsivity and anger issues — not testicles.
Q: What’s with women on dating sites who post pictures of themselves standing with their ex-boyfriend? At least that’s how it looks when a woman’s posed with some guy that she’s cropped or partially cropped out of the photo. —Turned Off
A: Every picture tells a story: “Look! A man once wanted me!” Or, “This is how cute I looked before he stole the best years of my life.” Or, “Consider this proof I was once 10 years younger, 20 pounds lighter, and had an entirely different head.” To the discerning, a woman who posts a profile pic of herself with a guy is sending a message that she’s socially tonedeaf, not serious about finding somebody, or desperate. (She can’t postpone her entry into the online dating world long enough to fire up the webcam or wait for a friend to come snap her picture?) Ultimately, if a woman’s going to post a shot of herself wearing something a little revealing, it shouldn’t be the hairy arm of the guy she just dumped.© 2011 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.