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How to deal with matters of the heart.

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Not that long ago I did something that was deeply disappointing to someone in my family.

It was not done out of malice. It was a simple oversight, the result of a life lived too fast without enough thought. It was likely a result of multi-tasking, to be honest.

I’ll keep the details to myself to spare the hearts of those involved. What’s important to know is that the thing I did was the kind of thing one obsesses over and wishes desperately she could turn back the clock to undo.

I would love to say I will never do something like this again. And while it’s unlikely that I’ll do this exact thing again, I will most definitely screw up and disappoint someone I love again.

As much as we continue to steer our compass toward perfection, we must accept that we are human. And humans are imperfect. So we screw up and will continue to do so.

It’s how we deal with these inevitable screw-ups, though, that really makes all the difference.

The moment I realized my screw-up, after my heart fell out of my butt (as my friend Meggan Watterson likes to say), I picked up the phone.

Picking up the phone, admitting we were wrong, and saying sorry goes a really, really long way.

Does it always fix things? No. But more often than not, it begins the repair process.

Did I feel like picking up the phone and apologizing? No, I did not. I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.

But I picked up the phone. And as my voice cracked I sincerely apologized. I told this person how much she means to me, how my mistake had nothing to do with my lack of love for her, and that I was so, very, deeply sorry.

We ended up having one of the most beautiful conversations we’ve ever had. We both cried. We both said how much we meant to each other. We both sighed deep sighs of relief.

I hung up the phone feeling more connected to this person than ever. And it took less than ten minutes.

The immediate pain of having the tough conversation we’d rather not have is significantly less than the chronic, un-subsiding pain of avoiding it.

It’s masochistic to peel a Band-Aid off your hairy arm millimeter by millimeter. Why would you do that?

Similarly, it’s masochistic to let apologies that need to be made or truths that need to be proclaimed fester.

My friend Mike Robbins shared something one of his mentors said to him:

Do you know what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want to have? It’s probably just a ten-minute, sweaty-palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.

Avoiding the sweaty-palmed conversation dissolves our bonds. Having the conversation brings us together. {Tweet it.}

Avoiding the sweaty-palmed conversation dissolves our bonds.-tweet

When you screw up (which we all will, over and over again until we die), address it. Have the sweaty-palmed conversation. Pick up the phone. Knock on the door. Say you’re sorry.

A timely apology may not fix everything, but it’s a really good place to start.

I’m happy to report that I look back on my careless error as a moment that created connection instead of separation. That’s the power of dealing with, rather than avoiding, matters of the heart.

 

OVER TO YOU:

What ten-minute, sweaty-palmed conversation do you need to have? When was a time you were willing to have one of these uncomfortable conversations and what happened as a result? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

 

P.S. Looking for a great listen this summer? My first bestselling book Money: A Love Story is now available in AUDIO! Check it out here.

SHOP PAGE BADGE

  • jacque says:

    Hi Kate,
    My situation is similar to yours, but the closing statements from their ends were the following words, “please leave me alone” and the other ” don’t disrespect me by replying to this”.
    So how do I handle these situations?
    Any help would greatly appreciated.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I think when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t want to mend things you may want to let them know that the door is open on your end but you respect their desire for space.

  • Juniper says:

    Holy crap! I just woke up & was laying here thinking about my conversation that I need to have but have been avoiding, and how it’s making me distance myself from a person that I love. Your post feels like a well-timed kick in the butt. Thanks!

  • Amy Morris says:

    My ten-minute conversation that needs to happen: telling the sweet man I’ve dated for six months that I need more, that I need and deserve the love, adoration, and romance that he just doesn’t feel for me.

  • Nathalie says:

    Ah yes! So so true! Thank you for sharing this Kate. Perfect timing. Pick up the phone anyway!

  • Jill says:

    Hi! Thanks for this article. I recently had a situation where I was the hurt one but the people that I was hurt by (my two best friends) didn’t know. I held it in for months until recently in the past week, I reached out to both of them and told them how I felt. Both experiences were amazing. We cried and shared how much we cared about each other and the whole thing made us all closer. Speaking my truth was hard but it set us all free. Thanks for reflecting this back to me.

  • Diana L says:

    Omg!
    A god box! That’s awesome!
    Never had one before but you can bet that I’ll have one now, thank you!!

  • Kate says:

    Hi Kate,
    Completely love this story and believe in the power of a sweaty-palmed conversation to heal all kinds of rifts. I’ve got a conversation I need to have, but I am not feeling like I can trust the person I need to have it with to listen and relate back to me without going on the offensive. So…we’re going to see a counselor together. Wish us luck.:)

    I just wanted to throw it out there that there might be some situations where, if you have good reason to not trust the person on the other end of the phone, there are other options.

    Thanks,
    Kate

    • Kate Northrup says:

      It is soooo true that it’s not always safe to have that sweaty palmed conversation without support – or sometimes even at all! Thank you for that reminder!

  • Laura Handke says:

    I recently re-read (the following day) an e-mail I wrote to someone in haste, and realized how offensive it might have been to that person. Within two minutes after reading it, I wrote another e-mail apologizing, and describing what my true intention was. The e-mail was received very well. She admitted an “eyebrow had been raised”, as my communication style wasn’t usually that abrupt. Picking up the phone is better in many cases…in this case, a written apology worked well. Like you, Kate, I feel it’s best to immediately express your regrets upon noticing your actions and regrets…even though it’s really, really hard. It’s harder if you don’t.

  • Shasha Chuck says:

    What if it cant be done? What if all can be done by only being present infront of the person and show the body languange to assure that you cant trust that person anymore?

  • temmy says:

    Thank you Kate for sharing this with us. I connect with you. But sometimes it seems better to separate from certain relationships. I had an experience recently. In an engaged relationship a year ago, I told my ex fiance about a friend of his who was married there saying about him and what they did to me which should disrespect, I was hurt and quietly withdrew from them. Now seeing my ex fiance saying his wife’s friend was close to him, I couldn’t imagine them staying close to me. so I share my thots of them and certain things they said of him to me. So he was upset. After, he broke up recently with me, he went ahead to tell this couples who sent me nasty message of how terrible I was and all. I did not apologise, I just said to them I was not surprise of the turn of event that I appreciate their kindness (which I meant cause I remember the good things they did for me in the past) and I said I will understand if they choose not be my friends again. And emphasized I never meant to destroy their friendship with my ex fiance. Well, this ex- fiance sent a mail to break up which I never responded to nor received his call after a month of breaking up with me via email. of which before the mail he has said things to his parents about me, acted flirty with his employee and his close friend gave cold shoulder. Well I learnt many things to manage anger, have self control over negative emotions, be very slow to speak and study who you are sharing certain information to cause not everyone can handle certain information well and not to be vengeful either directly or indirectly. Well, what do you think?

  • Randi says:

    At last, sonmeoe who comes to the heart of it all

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