I will admit it. I was pissed.
I know my youngest brother is a busy father of three. Yet for weeks he had delayed sending me an important package after swearing multiple times he would put it in the mail.
This older sister was not impressed.
Now, it’s not his fault I left my French press at his house on my most recent family visit (yes I insist on traveling with my French press).
But good Lord. I could have taken a train from Seattle to Texas and back three times over to pick it up myself during the weeks we spent texting about my mailing address while my mail box remained woefully empty.
At last I’d had enough.
With the autumn weather having recently set in with an emphatic icy blast, making the need for my morning coffee routine all the more pressing (pun intended), I called my brother, exasperated.
“What the eff, little brother”, I hissed when he picked up the phone, tense with frustration.
We are Sicilian Jews. We use blunt words like most people breathe oxygen.
What he said in response blew me away.
“I know, I totally f*cked up sis, I’m sorry”.
All of the tension in my body instantaneously evaporated.
How did he do that.
My brother is a fire fighter, a boxer, a dedicated suburban father and husband, a tattooed, gold-crucifix wearing son of Sicilian immigrant grandparents. And decidedly not a relationship coach like his older sister.
Which is especially why the stunning impact of his words caught my breath and rooted me to the ground.
It was so simple. He didn’t fight in the least. He took 100% ownership of his actions.
It disarmed me completely. My attack dog lolled, drooling. In an instant, the conflict was over.
“Ok, no worries,” I said, to my own surprise. “I know you’re busy. I’ll buy another one”.
The words came tumbling out, the natural consequence of having nothing left to resist.
As a full-time Intimacy Coach, I often work with couples embroiled in deep, embittered and long standing arguments. I myself trip into my fair share of misunderstandings in my personal life. I believe messes in the relational realm are the natural consequence of living life authentically and out loud. How we clean them up is what matters, not whether or not they happen.
Thanks to my youngest brother and the saga of the French press gone missing (yes he actually can’t find it at this point and I no longer care), I have a newfound superpower for cleaning up those messes with lightning speed.
I was so eager to try out this phenomenal new tool that I gave it a go a few nights later with my new lover.
At the end of a long day, I found myself gazing into his green eyes at the foot of my bed. Lights were low, we were both tired, and I’m pretty sure we were similarly aching to get our arms around one another.
But I had some clean up to do. And do it, I did.
“I f*cked up,” I told him after a short preamble to make sure he was in the right head and heart space to hear it.
There was something I should have told him sooner that in my breathless excitement at our relationship deepening, I had overlooked.
(No my test results were negative, it wasn’t that).
I explained what I needed to explain. I acknowledged that if I was in his shoes, I would have definitely wanted to know sooner. I didn’t defend. I apologized.
And I asked him what that was like to hear.
Again, what transpired practically took my breath away.
Though he had every right to be at least a little pissed off, this delightful new Romeo proceeded to defend me to myself, explain why I hadn’t technically broken any agreements and urge me to go easier on myself because I had meant well, he knew.
Blink blink, blink blink. I was dumbfounded.
Despite my agility with words much of the time, in the past I have angered many the man with sloppy communication which has taken extended clean up and often left an indelible mark on the trust between us.
But I’ve never had this three-word tool before either.
Our conversation ended shortly thereafter. I learned some important things about him, and I hope he about me. And without much more of a hitch, we were able to proceed with the important business of cuddling, feeling closer for having talked.
The results so far of my experiment with this three-word game changer have been astounding.
I’ve played both the role of contrite apologizer as well as been at the receiving end of this magnificent tool. I’ve shared it with a few friends and community members and feel excited to proclaim this discovery far and wide.
After all, this is not a copyrighted relationship secret only available to VIP subscribers. It is the wisdom of a man who is secure enough in himself that he can name it when he fails to keep his word, restore trust and move forward without much ado. After all, my little brother is busy. There’s no time to go to the post office let alone tangle with processing his sister’s indignation for days.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself.
You and I both know there’s some moment from the past week that you just may need to mop up between you and someone you care about.
Take a breath, take ownership of your humanness and call it like it is.
My little brother would be proud.