I came across this article today.
It encourages people not to say sorry, when what they really want to say is thank you. There are some great examples of how, in everyday life, we apologise for things, when we really mean to say "thank you". An example of this might be "Sorry I'm late" when what you mean is "Thank you for waiting for me".
In interest-based negotiation (used in Mediation and Collaborative Practice) we try to find out peoples interests. We try to find out what is really important to them. In doing so, we sometimes find that they way a need is initially being expressed (a 'position') is not always at the heart of the issue. Someone may be asking for a certain amount of money or a certain amount of parenting time. But how often - if we do our work well - do we learn that underneath that is something else? It might be a need to receive an apology for an affair. Or an apology for not standing up to their parents who disliked the spouse. The list is endless.
When a party is able to deliver a genuine apology, it can be a turning point for the parties' discussions.
But some parties are just not able to deliver an apology in a genuine or meaningful way. If they are not actually sorry (and/or the other person won't believe it even if they hear it), then it is not likely to happen! They may be trying to save face. Or they just might not have the capacity to do it. Or their actions may contradict any apology offered.
Perhaps there is a different way of approaching the problem. Perhaps the person who is unable to deliver the apology (for whatever reason) could instead of apologising, thank the other person. Rather than saying "I'm sorry I had an affair" (which might not be believable if they are still in that relationship...) they might be able to say "I know I hurt you and you are still angry at me. Thank you for not letting that impact on my relationship with the children".
Again, whatever the person says would have to be genuine and meaningful for that person, and the recipient.
But perhaps if a party is unable to give the apology the other person's interests require, we can do some coaching work to see if there might be a thank you that could meet the interest a different way?