Most of the apologies that come out of our mouth are bad ones. If you ever stop to listen, our go-to apologies sound something like this:
“I’m sorry, ok?” so get off my back.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were so sensitive” this is your issue.
“I’m sorry if you were offended” because I didn’t really do anything.
“I understand that mistakes were made” but they sure weren’t mine.
“I’m sorry but you…” my behavior is your fault.
Guilty as charged. How about you? Making mistakes is just part of being human. But when you are confronted, what kind of message are you sending? Are you apologizing completely? Or is your sorry just a quick attempt to escape the conflict altogether?
A bad apology can create just as much conflict and hurt as the original offense. If you don’t do it effectively, your apology can lose its value over time. Don’t let your words become meaningless. Get good at the “I’m sorrys” and stay fit in your marriage!
Confess Your Mess
The first thing to do when your spouse confronts you is to fess up. If you missed last week’s post on how to confess your mess, click here! Things like shame, anger, bitterness, jealousy, impurity, gossip, resentment, and selfishness lose their grip on us when we admit our struggle to God and others. Being honest gives others the opportunity to walk alongside us in our struggles, encourage us, and pray for us. When we confess, we admit we are wrong. And when we are wrong, those three little words are not far behind.
I Am Sorry
I don’t like conflict. In fact, I do my best to avoid it. When I’m wrong and my spouse confronts me, I want to quickly restore things as they once were. I want to escape whatever uncomfortable situation I find myself in. But a simple, “I’m sorry” doesn’t really communicate much except that I regret what I did (or regret getting caught).
A genuine apology has to come from the heart. The goal of an apology is to heal the hurt and restore the relationship. It’s about expressing sorrow over what you have done and the hurt you have caused. If you don’t feel any remorse, your apology will fall flat.
Apology Do’s and Don’ts
So how do I apologize effectively? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
Don’t use ifs or buts. Using “if” in your apology will make your spouse feel unheard. “I’m sorry if I was harsh with you”. You might as well be saying I don’t believe you, I didn’t do anything wrong. Using the word “but” turns apologizing into blaming. “I may have been harsh but you really hurt my feelings”. In other words, my actions are completely your fault. Avoid using both of these words. Stop blaming others for your own behavior.
Don’t be vague. Be specific. Saying, “I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done to hurt you” isn’t really saying much at all. You’re sending the message that you don’t even know what you’ve done wrong. Don’t throw a blanket apology around like “I’m sorry for being a bad wife.” What does that even mean? Instead, listen to your spouse. Understand his or her feelings. Ask for clarification. Then apologize for the specific behavior.
Don’t assume. Many times our apology is actually full of assumptions. The statement, “I’m sorry you feel…” is focused on our spouse, not our own behavior. Your goal is to communicate that you understand what you did and how it affected the other person. Recognize that you caused hurt to someone you love and be intentional about understanding that hurt. Don’t just assume you know how he feels or how deep her pain may go.
Accept the consequences. Someone who is truly sorry and remorseful is also willing to accept the consequences of his or her actions. This is reflected by an attitude of willingness to do whatever necessary to keep the behavior from happening again. You aren’t required to be perfect but you need to be willing to do what you can to repair the damage that has been done. What practical steps can you take to remove the temptation or root issue underlying your behavior?
Apologize completely. If you focus on just your behavior, your apology will be incomplete. Admitting what I did wrong is good, but acknowledging why I did it is even better. Confess both your behavior and attitude. For example, “I realize that I stopped listening to you in mid-sentence because I was thinking about Starbucks. This was selfish of me and unloving. I am very sorry for my behavior and that I hurt you…” Apologizing this way not only acknowledges my behavior, but why I was wrong and how my wrong affected the other person involved.
Repent. The word repent may sound like a scary religious word, but it’s really not. It simply means “change of direction”. To repent literally means to stop, turn around, and start walking in the complete opposite way you’ve been going.
Heart and behavior change begins with confession and is reinforced with repentance. If you admit you are wrong and apologize but never do anything different in the future, what good is that? What message are you sending to your spouse if you apologize over and over for the same behavior but never change? Choosing to act differently and changing your direction is the evidence of a changed heart.
Ask for forgiveness. This is the last step of an apology. You have been specific. You have confessed both your behavior and attitude. You have acknowledged the hurt you caused your spouse. You are taking practical steps to change your behavior. And you are asking your spouse to forgive you for the damage and to release you from any future backlash. When you ask for forgiveness, you are giving your spouse an opportunity to respond and ultimately putting the ball in their court. Give your spouse the space he or she needs to forgive and let go of their hurt. Because you have done your part, you can experience peace and freedom regardless.