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Why do men find it harder to apologize than women?

According to several studies, men apologize much less than women… and they’re not very good at it. Their threshold for what’s offensive is higher and, furthermore, society doesn’t expect them to say sorry

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Lucía Franco

Elton John clearly had a good sense of things when he sang Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word. This is because a study from 2010 — titled Why women apologize more than men: gender differences in thresholds for perceiving offensive behavior — demonstrated that, in fact, men ask for forgiveness quite infrequently. “Men apologize less than women because their threshold for what they consider [to be] offensive behavior is higher,” concludes the report, published by the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada.

There are almost as many ways to apologize as there are repentant people. There are explicit apologies, such as the one that Jesus Christ asked for on the cross, on behalf of his executioners. There are some delivered at the wrong time, like when the former king of Spain expressed regret after his trip to hunt elephants in Africa (on the public dime) was reported by the media. Then, there are those that aren’t sincere or credible at all, like when Luis Rubiales — the formed head of the Royal Spanish Football Federation — grudgingly apologized for giving a non-consensual kiss to soccer champion Jenni Hermoso.

Sorry. A word with five letters and two syllables. Clinical psychologist Violeta Alcocer confirms Elton John’s version. According to her, if it’s more difficult for men to ask for forgiveness, it’s because society is androcentric… that is, tailored to the needs of men. The expert points out that the internal dynamics of this type of society cultivate a system of different rewards and punishments, depending on gender. “When men and women fulfill normative roles and stereotypes, we receive social recognition and reward. But when we don’t comply, women experience social penalties of various kinds, while errors aren’t usually pointed out to men.”

However, according to many experts, something is changing among the new generations. Men are learning to apologize more, while women are trying to apologize less. Every day, Raúl Macías — who runs the Subversive Masculinity page on Instagram — receives messages from men about how to ask for forgiveness. “There’s the idea that women have experienced things more through emotion, while men believe that we have the power of reason. That already generates a distance, a conflict where the power of the narrative resides with the men,” Macías notes. He affirms that, on many occasions, the man only apologizes to avoid conflict. “Many of those who write to me don’t know how to deal with forgiveness. I try to get them to value the person who apologizes, to connect with their emotions. I always start with the same questions: Do you care about this person? Do you want to continue [your relationship] with her? Are you really understanding the damage that you’ve caused? Why do you think it’s so difficult for you to ask for forgiveness?” Macías lists.

Couples mediation expert and psychologist Marisol Ramoneda states that a man’s behavior has to have been very obvious for him to realize that he’s hurt someone. “It’s more difficult for them, because they don’t have the same perception as women. But, if they realize it, I think they would be on equal terms [when it comes to] asking for forgiveness,” she says. For Ramoneda, this topic is important for couples to discuss. “Perhaps a woman is waiting for forgiveness for something and she’ll never receive it, because her partner isn’t aware of having done anything wrong. In a healthy relationship, it’s important to learn to express what you feel. Only in this way will sincere forgiveness be obtained.”

And what counts as a good apology — an exemplary and textbook example of forgiveness? A study titled An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies (2016) has identified six traits of an effective apology: expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, acknowledging responsibility, declaring regret, offering a solution and, ultimately, asking for forgiveness. If all these steps are followed, the report concludes, apologies will be healing. It’s worthless without a legitimate change behind the act. Elton John must be corrected in this: The most difficult thing isn’t saying sorry… it’s harder to believe why you need to do it.


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