Disclaimer: Off the Shelf isn’t usually where I rant about reality TV (that’s what Twitter is for), but when I realized that I had the perfect book recommendation for my favorite Real Housewives, I couldn’t resist.
Season 10 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta is about secret weddings, Spanish villas, and how easy it is for teenagers to ruin lives on Snapchat, but when it really comes down to it, it’s also about apologies. Some of these women have known each other for more than ten years, and through the ups and downs of one of TV’s most explosive reality shows, “I’m sorry” gets thrown around more often than backhanded compliments or sponsorship deals for detox teas/teeth whiteners/waist trainers/et al.
During this season’s reunion, Shereé Whitfield and Porsha Williams fight over one particular apology gone wrong. “I called you and said . . . I apologize, girl,” Porsha claims. Shereé snaps back: “You’re still justifying your actions. . . . There’s still a ‘but.’ I apologize, ‘but’!”
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When I heard this, I almost jumped out of my seat, reminded (of course) of a great book I’d read. Here, Shereé touches on a key issue that Harriet Lerner, psychotherapist and author of WHY WON’T YOU APOLOGIZE?: HEALING BIG BETRAYALS AND EVERYDAY HURTS, encounters at the heart of so many disagreements and misunderstandings. “When ‘but’ is tagged onto an apology, it undoes the sincerity,” Lerner writes. “Watch out for this sneaky little add-on. It almost always signals an excuse or cancels out the original message.”
In other words: Just because you said the words “I’m sorry,” it doesn’t mean that you’ve actually apologized in a meaningful way, and it definitely doesn’t mean that the hurt party owes you forgiveness. WHY WON’T YOU APOLOGIZE? breaks down this and other common apology pitfalls, based both on the author’s experience and stories from many of her patients. In just 200 pages, Lerner shows us the incredible healing power that those two magic words hold, and how learning to use them wisely can transform any relationship for the better.
In so many instances, the Real Housewives demonstrate exactly what Lerner warns readers not to do in a conflict. For instance, you should never assume that your apology is “an automatic ticket to forgiveness,” expecting someone to move on as soon as you admit that you’re sorry for your actions. This is exactly what Porsha Williams expects from Kandi Burruss, even though the rumor Porsha spread in Season 9 was far too serious for such a quick dismissal.
Lerner also warns us about serial non-apologizers, and how trying to force them to fess up to their wrongdoings can backfire. “If you go on too long, you’re actually protecting the other person from taking in your anger or pain, because that person will shut down and vacate the emotional premises.” One might also vacate the physical premises—non-apologizer Kim Zolciak has her husband sit in their car during all of her social events, just in case she’s feeling attacked and needs to make a quick exit. Needless to say, I’ll never watch The Real Housewives the same way again now that I’ve read this book.
WHY WON’T YOU APOLOGIZE? will not only sharpen your own conflict resolution skills—it will also give you the superpower of detecting bogus or toxic apologies everywhere: at your workplace, at family events, or even on your favorite shows. Pass the cue cards, Andy Cohen—Dr. Lerner needs a moment with the ladies.