Have you ever had an argument with your spouse and realized later that you were “somewhat” at fault? Or maybe you did something very offensive or repeated the same irritation from last week.
Sometimes when we apologize, our conversation does not really seem to connect. Or we say the words, but our spouse does not believe that we are sincere. Perhaps we are not sincere and we just want to “get through it” so that we will feel better.
These seven keys are not easy. Some are difficult and require us to humble ourselves in a way that is scary – because we do not exactly know what the response will be from our spouse.
But if you pray before the conversation, follow these steps, and really mean it –you will find that your spouse will be more open to believing that your apology is sincere and heart-felt.
Address the action or words that specifically affected your spouse.
Do not generalize. You have hurt or offended your spouse, so anything less than admitting the specific offense is in some ways cowardly. What if they are hurt or angry because of something entirely different?
Before you talk to your spouse, write down a concise description of the words, actions (or lack thereof) for which you are apologizing. By forcing yourself to take the time to put it in writing, it helps you to be more specific and provides clarity for you, even before you speak with your spouse.
Avoid the words “if, but, maybe, because you . . “
This is hard to do. Especially if we are “only 10% at fault” and our spouse might have contributed to the situation. Our natural inclination, even when we apologize, is to justify and defend ourselves. But any indication that we are “reacting” to our spouse (so it is their fault), deflecting the blame or we are trying to share the blame will nullify any sincerity that we have.
You might even try and practice what you plan to say before the conversation. You will probably catch yourself in using one of these words . . . . they come so naturally.
Acknowledge the hurt
This may be the most important and most difficult step. How often have you said “I’m sorry,” but it did not come across as meaningful? Usually because our motivation is that we feel bad (often our spouse is mad at us!), and we want to feel better. We just want to “get though this” as quickly as possible with as little pain as possible. In fact, we need to do just the opposite: We need to focus on how our spouse is hurting, even if that hurt is appearing as anger (often a very intense anger).
Unless we take the time to put ourselves in their place, to try and experience the hurt that we have caused, our apology will simply fall on deaf ears. And we deserve it when they reject our “sincere” apology. True sincerity only comes when we not only acknowledge their hurt, but also join them in it.
Ask for forgiveness
This is a little different from simply offering an apology. By asking forgiveness, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. We are hoping for an acceptance, but our spouse now has the option to turn us down. Which is why we must have no expectations that our request for forgiveness will be accepted. That is our hope, but not our expectation.
The response may not be what you hope for
So now we have identified and admitted the specific wrong, not justified our words or actions, and tried to experience the hurt with them. So we should expect them to forgive us immediately and everything will be wonderful. Right? Wrong!!
Some people simply need time to heal – to “get over it.” If the wrong has occurred numerous times, they may need some space alone before they decide how sincere our apology has been.
We are the ones who have wronged our spouse. The key is to have no expectations of what the response might be. If we have no expectations, then we will not be disappointed. This will prevent us from reacting in anger when we do not receive a smile and an offer of forgiveness.
If our request for forgiveness is refused, then the difficult task of providing grace with patience is the next journey for us to travel.
Alter your behavior.
This is the ONLY WAY to convince our spouse that our apology was sincere, and we desire to change. We are offering proof that demonstrates to our spouse how serious we are about our relationship. It also shows by actions that we are truly sorry for the pain we have caused.
Above all, pray for your spouse and the relationship.
Consider reading Ken Sande’s “The Seven “A”s of Confession” for additional insights.
After working as a Chemical Engineer for 36 years, Steve Fox took early retirement so that he could focus his full-time attention on helping others to discover how to improve or repair their marriages as well as other family relationships. Steve also helps others begin to “dream” about what will help them become fulfilled in their career and life.
Steve earned an MA in Counseling from LSU and is now a National Certified Counselor and Counselor Intern with Crossroads. He has worked with couples on a ministry basis for over 20 years and has a counseling focus with couples, families, career coaching, and addiction counseling with families.
Steve’s complete bio can be found here.