Q. My ex and I had a lovely life together, but I got bored, met someone knew, and left. We had two kids, and although I somewhat regret my actions, I think I’d probably do it again. Of course I’m not with the other guy and after intense amounts of therapy I own that it was my fault and I’m wondering if Valentine’s Day is the day to talk to my ex about what I’ve learned and offer him an apology? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I’ve read countless articles by other professionals and laypeople touting the positives of using Valentine’s Day as a vehicle to right one’s wrongs. A kind of, “Hey ex, I really screwed up, and on this day of all days I would like to offer an apology.” I personally don’t get the correlation. Valentine’s Day is for lovers, not ex-lovers, but current lovers. And, if an apology is required, why wait for a day associated with love and romance to do it? The most opportune time to offer an apology? Immediately! But, you also have to come to grips with why you are apologizing and if it is really what is required for both you or your ex to move on.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand firsthand the sentimentality associated with reconciling your differences with an ex and coming out friends on the other side. Break-ups and the issues that lead to them are jammed packed with hurt and anger and sadness and navigating through that to once again be cordial, especially if there are children involved is a huge accomplishment. Personally, when my ex finally apologized, there was a shift in our ability to problem solve. And, as a child custody mediator whose daily work involves guiding couples no longer together through resolving conflict, an apology can really affect how your ex responds and can set the stage for far more fruitful negotiations.
As a quick note, there is a fine art to offering an apology—and to accepting one. The key is to acknowledge your wrong without qualifying your behavior. “I’m sorry I hurt you” accepts responsibility for your actions and is a far more effective apology than, “I’m sorry you feel I hurt you.” “Thank you, or I forgive you” is a far more gracious way to accept an apology than, “I’m glad you finally see the error of your ways.”
But, your question was if Valentine’s Day is a good day to share your feelings, and I am of the opinion it is not. I don’t think any holiday should be the catalyst for an apology to an ex, particularly Valentine’s Day, and even more so if your ex has a new partner. It’s lovely that you feel an apology will reinforce a resolution to your past conflicts, but you want the apology to be the main focus. So, rather than concentrate on the day you are offering the apology, concentrate on the apology itself. Make it as heartfelt as possible–and do it soon. That’s good ex-etiquette.