How to Spin It When You Spectacularly Screw Up

A professional fixer explains how to get back in your family's good graces after a catastrophic screw up.

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So, you screwed up. Spectacularly. Whatever you did was bad. Like your-wife-is-so-angry-she’s-staying-at-her-best-friend’s- bad. Like your-name-is-spoken-with-the-same-reverence-as-The-Hangover-3-bad. But, seriously, you’re full of remorse and truly want to make up for what you did. And that part — the part where you crawl back, beg for forgiveness from your spouse, their family, their friends, and the gods of every religion — takes a long time and can be a very difficult thing to do correctly.

It helps, then, to tap into the know-how of someone who knows how to repair a reputation. That’s why we spoke Eileen Koch, a Beverly Hills-based publicist who’s worked with everyone from Vince Neil to Floyd Mayweather.  “Once somebody does something, they’re never the same because you realize it’s in them,” she says. Nevertheless, Koch assures you, rebirth is possible — and necessarily painful — if you go about it right. Here’s what to do.

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Evaluate Your Screw Up

There are idiotic momentary lapses at bachelor parties. And then there are secret mistresses and clandestine bank accounts. “A lot would depend on the circumstances. Regardless, if the marriage is strong and the man is sincere and he shows that in his behavior, that’s all he can do,” Koch says. “We can all make a mistake — it has nothing to do with not loving your family. If you have real issues, then you need to seek help from a doctor, psychiatrist, or marriage counselor.”

Start By Really Being Sorry

Seriously. Your spouse knows you better than anyone, including the mistress, the poker dealer, or the yacht broker who may have helped you get into this mess. That means there’s no faking your atonement.

“Assuming he really is truly sorry and he loves his wife and family — his apology has to be sincere,” Koch says, referring to the royal “he”. “People can tell.”

Then, and this is obvious but bears repeating: “You have to confess everything and say you’re sorry. That’s all anyone can do,” Koch says. “If you said it 1,000 times and she’s not satisfied, you need to keep it up until she goes back to being the woman you married.”

Be True To Your Personality

If you’re the Ulysses Everett McGill type (that is to say, a man of many words), get gabbing. If you’re the soft-spoken type, prep the puppy dog eyes — he or she needs to see the contrition. “You have to stay true to who you are for someone to believe it’s coming from your heart,” says Koch. Doing something out of character only gives the appearance you’re seeking a bandage. “If he was a guy who wasn’t over the top, then an over-the-top apology wouldn’t fit into his nature.”

Play the Long Game

Healing takes time. And if you’ve screwed up majorly, it would be more reasonable to expect real forgiveness around the time of the next season of Westworld or the next Iowa caucus. “It really has to be a change in your life, depending on the severity. If he took their life savings and invested it in something without telling her, that’s a big deal,” Koch says. “The only way for her to forgive is if she truly loved him and he was very sincere and showed it in his behavior for years to come.”

Play the Public Overtures By Ear

How public should your apology be? This depends on where your screw up registers on the relationship Richter scale and to what extent other people are involved. Public self-flagellation is rarely necessary, except when it is. “If he cheated and the whole family was involved, he needs to apologize to the entire family, and tell her parents, siblings, and best friend he loves her,” says Koch. “He needs to assure everyone he’ll never do it again.” Salvation starts with honesty.

 

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