How often have you been treated unfairly by someone who supposedly cares for you? How many times has someone failed to appreciate all you’ve done for them? How frequently have you been unfairly criticized by a friend or loved one? And haven’t there been times when you’ve been attacked seemingly out-of-the-blue by someone close to you? How should you respond when something like that happens?
Look back at your past behavior in these kinds of situations. Chances are that, having felt unfairly treated, you wanted to see that “justice was done,” or felt that you needed to “set the record straight.” That may have involved confronting the offender or, perhaps as frequently, NOT confronting the offender, but dramatically altering your relationship with him/her, dishing out the silent treatment or withholding affectionate behavior.
In most cases, responses to behavior that is perceived as unfair are counterproductive. Pointing out the unfairness of the treatment won’t usually get the offender to acknowledge the transgression. In fact, it is more likely to provoke a defensive reaction that deepens your wound because, even after you clearly explained why the treatment was unfair, no apology is forthcoming.
That is exactly what happened to me a number of years ago when my best friend and I had a falling out over what I perceived to be his “taking our friendship for granted.” I pointed out the reasons that led to my feeling this way, reasons with which he did not agree. His lack of an apology led me to terminate the relationship, and in retrospect I came to understand what a loss I had suffered over what in the scheme of our overall relationship was a minor infraction.
Currently I am a close observer of the dynamics involved in another of these situations – a particularly difficult dynamic. Specifically, a married couple to whom I am very close has been trying to deal with the husband’s infidility, discovered about six months ago but which occurred over the period of a couple of years. The instigating causes of the infidelity are complicated, so let me skip over them and focus instead on the aftermath. These are two people who love each other very much and, despite initial moves towards an acrimonious divorce, they have found a sort of equilibrium. Or I could more aptly characterize the situation as a standoff. She is (rightfully) looking for an apology unconnected to his claims that she provoked the infidelity. And he is (understandably) looking for her to acknowledge those “provocations.” Both feel that the demand of the other is unfair, so an impasse has resulted that I am afraid will lead to greater and greater distance between them until the gap is unbridgeable.
Is there anything so terrible about acknowledging one’s role in a hurtful comment or action? No, but the idea of “fairness” stands in the way. In the mind of the transgressor it isn’t “fair” to look at effect without cause. Yet acknowledgment by one party of his or her guilt is the most likely way to get the other to admit to their part. Holding on to a feeling of being wronged will get you nowhere and only ensure continued pain.
Now this is not to say that sometimes people treat others in ways that is so unfair that seeking to determine one’s role in the situation is totally uncalled for. Physical or emotional abuse, for example, simply cannot be tolerated. But if the relationship is really important to you, and as long as you can ensure your own safety, seek to forgive the offender, recognizing that you yourself have sometimes dealt unfairly with people you love. I guarantee that deciding to forgive will bring you peace of mind that is highly unlikely to come as long as you hold out for an apology that isn’t promptly offered. Plus you will often be able to save relationships that all things considered fill your life with joy.