Written by Tunde Ajaja
~ Punch Nigeria. Sunday, April 29, 2018.
At 45 and 40 respectively, Mr. James Koledowo and his wife, Simi, have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly in their near four years of marriage.
Seen by many in their church and neighbourhood as a happily married couple, Simi admitted that truly they had had exciting moments, but that when it comes to resolving their differences, she could count on her five fingers how many times her husband had apologised to her, even when he was evidently the one at fault.
"Not that he had never offended me and not that he didn't know he was wrong at those times, but he just felt a man should not be the one apologising, thinking it was degrading for a man to do that," she said in a recent interaction with Saturday PUNCH.
From the unprintable things he says anytime they had quarrel to doing certain things a reasonable man should not do to his wife and causing her emotional distress, Simi said she still doesn't understand why he finds it difficult to admit that he could be wrong and then "do the needful" - apologise.
"That is one thing that has consistently moved me to tears in this marriage," she said. "I don't know if it is pride, or he feels he's too perfect to be wrong or he feels admitting he's wrong is a sign of weakness. But I've learnt to ignore him, and when I can't stomach it, I just walk away because sometimes, I just feel like screaming and doing something silly."
Notably, in any human relationship, especially marriage, disagreement somewhat seems inevitable, and this underscores why marriage counsellors stress the need for couples to learn to say 'sorry'. They said refusal to say it could make issues degenerate into serious conflict. And according to findings, women apologise more frequently than men.
But why do some people find it difficult to say sorry? A psychologist, Prof. Oni Fagboungbe, said it is an ego problem. He explained that psychologically, such people feel their ego would be deflated when they apologise and that when their ego is deflated, it brings shame. Thus, they don't apologise so as not to look cheap before their spouses.
Speaking on how they come about such habit, he said it could be the personality makeup of the person, as they could have learnt that while growing up and that some inherit the trait that predisposes them to such.
He said, "In this environment, from tradition and culture, men have the feeling that they are the heads of their wives and they have to dominate. That is why in the past, parents wouldn't tell their elder child to apologise to their younger ones even if the older one was at fault.
"Also, women tend to feel that apologising all the time makes them cheap and the man would not respect them, thus they would feel being unapologetic would help them to maintain their position in the house."
A sociologist, Dr. Franca Attoh, also said unapologetic people see it as something against the culture. "If a man or woman has been socialised to believing that it is a sign of weakness to say sorry, over time, they internalise that belief and they grow up with it. But the truth is that saying "I'm sorry' is a sign of strength, especially strength of character. It takes somebody who is noble and strong to realise that they have erred and to make atonement."
But, a psychologist, Dr. Guy Winch, tied it to five things, including such persons' inability to separate their actions from their character, saying they feel apologising could make them feel like bad people. "They feel if they did something bad, they must be bad people; if they were neglectful, they must be fundamentally selfish and uncaring; and if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid, etc. Therefore, apologies represent a major threat to their basic sense of identity and self-esteem," he added.
Also, he said such people shy away from apologising because they fear that apologising could open the door for guilt and shame. "While guilt makes us feel bad about our actions, shame makes unapologetic persons feel bad about their selves - who they are - which is what makes shame a far more toxic emotion than guilt," he said.
Furthermore, he said instead of seeing apologies as opportunities to resolve interpersonal conflict, such people tend to withhold their apology because they believe it could open them to more accusations, insults and ridicule. Thus, they keep quiet. He added, "Once they admit to one wrongdoing, they feel the other person will pounce on that opportunity to pile on all the previous offences for which they refused to apologise as well."
In addition, Winch also noted that people who don't apologise do so because they fear that they might have to take the full responsibility for all that happened, thereby freeing the other person of any fault.
Then, he concluded that people also refuse to apologise in a bid to have a hold of their emotions and that they are often okay with their anger and emotional distance. He said, "They fear that lowering their guard, even slightly, will make their psychological defences crumble and open the floodgates to a well of sadness and despair that will pour out of them, leaving them powerless to stop it."
Meanwhile, as can be imagined, living with someone who never apologises can be very frustrating, because it could connote disrespect or lack of regard for the person on the receiving end. The feeling is understandably worse in marriage, given that it's expected to be a life contract.
However, below are tips on how to live with unapologetic partners:
Prepare your mind to live with it: It might not sound sweet, but one recommendation from experts is that the spouses of such persons would have to prepare their minds to live with such habit. Fagboungbe said that would save them the stress of being sad over it per time. "If you can do that, you would have classically conditioned yourself to expect that type of behaviour, so take them as they are," he added. Also, Attoh said partners of such persons should try and live with it because it is difficult to change an adult. She said, "Allow the situation to take its course because it is always difficult to change anything when tempers are high. If you try to raise it as an issue, it can degenerate into conflict because some people just don't like to be corrected."
Talk to them about it later: Experts have also advised that effective communication might be the way to go. Fagboungbe said talking to them when relaxed or in a good mood could help and ultimately yield positive result. "Research has shown that couples tend to listen to each other when they are in bed and ready to sleep. Raise the issue in a subtle tone and let the person know the implication of what they are doing. If you are a religious person, you can introduce religion." Attoh also advised that the aggrieved partner could raise it when the person is at their best. "It's very difficult to correct an adult but you can talk to them in their moments of joy or happiness. Make it a friendly talk. Any marriage that works is because one party decided to work at it. The two partners do not usually have the benefit of the same experiences, but if you make up your mind to live together, do what you can, and talking about it is an option."
Involve a friend or someone they respect: In case talking about it does not yield any result, Fagboungbe said the partner on the receiving end could talk to someone the spouse respects. This, he said, could help such persons to see things differently. "But if this doesn't work, you have to live with it and then see it as their normal way of behaviour, else it could lead to separation, in-fighting and even divorce," he said.
Don't bite yourself if you didn't notice earlier: While some would expect that such traits must have been noticeable in the early days of courtship, Attoh said people don't get to know everything about a partner during courtship, thus, they should deal with it. She said, "The truth is that couples are not 100 per cent sincere to themselves during courtship. Everybody tries to put in their best and accommodate the other person's shortcomings until they sign on the dotted lines."
Help them to get knowledge: Perhaps one other way to help such people is to help them get the right knowledge on such things. Attoh said the partner could buy them books that address such; encourage them to attend seminars where such issues could be addressed; take them to religious houses, as applicable, and expose them to places where they would pick the right cues. "Over time, the person might change," she added.