Intervention 21-5: Making Amends

Target: Couples currently experiencing a power imbalance in the relationship as a result of one partner offending the other. 

 

Resources:

Cordova, James, Cautilli, Joseph, Simon, Corrina, and Sabag, Robin. Behavior Analysis of Forgiveness in Couples Therapy. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. Vol 2, No. 2, 2006. Pp192-215

 

Background:

Through the course of a marriage, one-way offenses are practically unavoidable.  These events aren’t necessarily intentional but can reduce the quality of an intimate relationship and create an imbalance of power in the relationship.  When an individual causes offense to their partner, or perhaps causes a loss of face with the family, an injustice gap is formed.  In these situations, the offending party is temporarily placed at a disadvantaged position in which they “owe” it to their partner to make up the lost ground.  If left unresolved, injustice gaps can be used as ammunition against the offending party during future disagreements (Cordova et. al, 2006).  Using the injustice gap for leverage in an argument reduces the chance that the argument can be resolved in a constructive manner, ultimately allowing for problems to pile up and a rift to form between the couple. 

 

Intimacy develops out of the moments when we make ourselves vulnerable to a partner and that partner responds in a way that honors that vulnerability (Cordova et al, 2006). In this respect, an injustice balance is an opportunity for the couple to grow stronger.  Through the process of making amends, the partners in the relationship can collaboratively work towards forgiveness and improving their closeness. 

Procedure:

1.       Acknowledge the Gap

a.       While both partners may be aware that an injustice gap exists, they are likely to have different perceptions as to how large this gap is.  The first step is to discuss with the couple how great of a gap has formed as a result of the offense.  The difference in perspective can be quantified by asking each client to rate the size of the injustice gap on a scale of 1 to 100. 

2.       Apologize for the offense

a.       Apologizing for the offense consists of two key factors; (a) accepting responsibility for the offense and (b) expressing intent to repair the hurt caused by the offense.  Apologizing alone will not sufficiently replace the occurrence of the event, but is a necessary part of planning the method by which trust can be restored. 

3.       Receive the apology

a.       It is important for the non-offending party to recognize the courage required to apologize and to ask for forgiveness.  Forgiveness cannot be mandated and sometimes requires considerable time or thought before it can be offered.  Reinforcing the vulnerable behavior of apologizing by expressing gratitude for the apology will build intimacy (Cordova, et al 2006). 

4.       Discuss how the injustice gap can be reduced

a.       Each couple must determine the best way for the injustice gap to be resolved.  In this way, the acts are personalized to their unique relationship.  The therapists may recommend some common ways in which the gap can be reduced, including grand romantic gestures, increased work on the relationship, or a similar activity that may reduce negative effects. 

5.       Acknowledge the improvement

a.       Continuing the theme of supporting their partner’s vulnerability the couple should indicate to their partner when they feel acts have helped to reduce the injustice gap.  This continues to reinforce the vulnerability being expressed as well as the positive steps being taken to correct the injustice, ultimately building intimacy (Cordova, et al 2006). 

6.       Continue monitoring

a.       Couples should not expect to resolve the injustice gap over night.  The amount of time and effort required to eliminate the injustice gap varies based on the couple and the severity of the offense.  The couple should be able to check in using the rating system of 1 to 100 in order to evaluate progress over time.  As the couple works towards improving the relationship they should be able to measure improvement by virtue of this reducing rating. 

Counter indication: This intervention is not intended for couples who have experienced a serious offense such as infidelity or domestic violence.  Also, the couple may experience difficulty with this intervention if they have experienced a long history of injustice gaps.  Some couples, or individuals within a couple, may aggressively use the injustice gap as a tool for gaining leverage in the relationship.  For these individuals, it may be difficult to change the pattern of interaction within the couple.  It is important for a couple to focus on maintaining a balance of power within the relationship in order to use this intervention, and stimulate growth, most effectively.