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My girlfriend says I never accept mistakes, don't say sorry, always try to reason why I did something, get defensive, say same thing again and again to support myself during the argument after I mess up something.

As far as I can tell, when we are having a discussion/argument about something, I start by saying the reason as to why I messed something up and then sometimes explicitly say sorry depending on the situation.

I don't necessarily agree with her point of view - I tried to tell her in response that me telling the reason why I messed up doesn't mean that I'm defensive and not accepting my mistake, it means that I'm accepting the mistake and also saying why it happened because it is natural for me to say so as far as I'm concerned. I never had heated arguments with other people, so I don't know for sure.

Even after us having multiple discussions about this matter multiple times over a couple of months, we never got to a solution. Whenever we have this discussion - it usually ends with me telling her that I won't say reasons next time, I'll acknowledge my mistake and stay silent. to which she says "No, you should find a balance".

The problem is that I never understood what "balance" means. I don't know what to do. I'd like some pointers on understanding:

  • How to find balance between staying silent when I mess up vs. sounding defensive?
  • How do I detect that I'm getting defensive and correct myself?

I can add more details if necessary.

Thanks.

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In my experience, giving reasons why you did something in this kind of situation is often a mistake.

For some people, hearing why you made a mistake and what you were trying to do is good, and helps them understand that your intentions were good. For such people, your approach to an apology would work well. But it seems your girlfriend is not that type of person.

Your girlfriend sounds as is she is one of the people who hears an explanation of why you made a mistake as an argument that you did nothing wrong, and that she is wrong to be upset about it. That isn't what you mean of course, but that is what the words convey to her.

What she needs to hear is that you understand that you made a mistake and that you understand why she is upset, and that it matters to you.

I suggest trying something like the following apology formula (remembering to keep any suggestion of trying to explain it justify yourself out of it, because that undercuts your apology, rather than helping her to understand).

  • start with "I'm sorry" (surprise!).
  • explain why you are sorry i.e. what you did wrong.
  • "this was wrong because..." : show you understand why this has upset her
  • "in the future I will...": Show that you know what you can do differently in the future to avoid the same hurt happening again.
  • "can you forgive me".

You might well find, when you try this, that the reason why she was upset isn't exactly what you thought it was, so you might need another go around once you better understand why she is upset.

But the key point is that explaining the reasons you did what you did is seen as

  1. being defensive and justifying yourself,
  2. explaining why you were right and
  3. why she is wrong to be upset and that how she feels is invalid.

The solution is to focus on showing that the fact she is upset is the important thing (whether you think she is right or not), that you understand why she is upset, and that it matters to you not to repeat the mistake.

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  • Yeah, good note on different needs of different people. I've definitely met both extremes as well. One of them interprets an explanation of how a mistake came about just like OP's girlfriend, and the other is almost taken aback by too ready an apology. "Aren't you going to defend yourself? I know that's how I see it, but maybe I'm wrong?"
    – Euchris
    Oct 18 '20 at 12:49
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    Hi PhillS! You say 'in your experience giving reasons doesn't work'. But we require the rest of the answer to be backed up as well, instead of just giving a recipe of steps, can you also add what the result of following those steps for you was?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 18 '20 at 16:27
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Staying silent and being defensive can be two sides of the same stance; that of not truly exposing oneself to criticism. Everyone can reason their actions, after all they acted the way the did exactly because it was what they, as physical human beings with a certain history, way of thinking, habits etc, would do under those circumstances. So reasoning rarely helps to reach a conclusion in an argument, it most often helps reinforcing them. But an argument is not a philosophical discussion. It's mostly a confrontation between two human beings that is highly pervaded by emotions. It's the emotional state of the participants that needs soothing and rebalancing, not their conception of things and facts. People don't need to know what it was that caused actions from our side that consider as harmful to them. They need to know that we are willing to do something to prevent that harm from happening again.

  • So when you are in these arguments try to understand the emotional state your girlfriend is into and empathize.
  • Try to understand what it was in your actions that was regarded as harmful or offensive.
  • Try to understand what it was in your thoughts / way of thinking that caused these actions.
  • Try to find a way to prevent the train of thought - action - harm from happening again.
  • Reassure the other person that you are aware of their feelings, that you are sorry that you caused them and that you are planning to take specific action to avoid a repeat of the same thing.

From my experience it is not always easy to do all these things. A good help and a guide for this attempt would be to put oneself in the other guys' shoes. But in order to do that properly, you should not start with the facts. You should not think 'Imagine she had done this and this and now she is saying this and this to me'. Instead you should start with trying to put yourself in the emotional state of the other (empathy). You should think 'Imagine I was feeling this and this and then by her words I started feeling this and this'. Then perhaps you might find it easier to target the exact issues that fuel the argument and put them out.

My 2 cents. I hope you develop a way to resolve these issues more peacefully and productively. The same thing I hope for myself too...

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