Say You’re Sorry — and Mean It

Not long ago, I publicly humiliated my wife. It wasn’t intentional, and the group of people involved was small.

Nevertheless, she was still embarrassed by something I said and pulled me aside. I faced an important decision: Deny I did anything wrong, defend my actions — or apologize to my wife.

I had no idea I’d embarrassed my wife until she chastised me. I first put up a defensive argument. I explained I didn’t intend for my comments to reflect badly on her. From her perspective, that didn’t matter. The more I tried to defend what I said, the angrier she got.

Seeing my wife hurt by my careless words (and more by my defense of them), I backed down. I took responsibility for what I said and how it made her feel. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Even though I didn’t mean to embarrass you, I see that I did. How can I make this right?”

She looked me sternly in the eye and said, “Don’t ever do it again.”

Related: The Lost Art of Saying ‘I’m Sorry’

“OK,” I said. “I won’t.” And that was the end of it.

Sooner or later a husband or wife will disappoint the other or say something hurtful. Some apologies between couples are easier. Other apologies feel like climbing an endless flight of stairs. Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” satisfies the offended spouse. Other times, when the pain or disappointment of betrayed trust is deep, restoring the relationship to its previous level of satisfaction takes more time and effort.

Related: What No One Ever Thinks of When It Comes to Happy Marriage

In either case, successfully mending wounds in a relationship relies on the ability of the offending spouse to successfully accomplish the following tasks.

1.) Own your actions. Taking responsibility for what you said or did requires humility. It’s easy to let phrases slip into your apology that place at least part of the responsibility for your actions somewhere other than on you. Many of those phrases begin with “You.” Statements like, “You pushed my buttons,” or “You didn’t listen to me.” An innocent “I didn’t mean it” is also a poor excuse if it’s used to shirk responsibility.

Your spouse may want to see if you’re walking the walk before trusting you again.

You did it, so own it. Don’t allow excuses to undermine your apology.

2.) Be sincere. Apologies made to avoid or tone down an argument or to get sexual favors are insincere. A sincere apology comes from the heart and isn’t manipulative. A sincere apology is one where you regret the pain or disappointment you caused the other person.

Reject any ulterior motives for saying you’re sorry. Make repairing broken trust your only goal.

When you approach your spouse with an apology, he or she may have something to say before listening to you. Chances are, you’ll be interrupted. Step back and hear what your spouse has to say. Part of their healing process may include the need to have you know how disappointed or hurt she felt.

Related: Secrets of a Solid Marriage (Hint: It’s Not Sex)

3.) Hold your tongue and open your ears. Hearing and acknowledging the other’s perspective doesn’t mean you have to agree.  Respect your partner’s feelings and point of view. An apology is not your opportunity to defend yourself or set the record straight.

If your spouse has something to say, let him or her finish before you say anything more. The next time you speak, he’ll be more likely to listen to you.

4.) Be curious. The process of repairing the relationship doesn’t end with your apology. It’s a two-way street. Don’t rush to ask for forgiveness. If your spouse hasn’t answered this question already, ask her, “Is there anything else you’d like me to do to make things right between us?” Your spouse may say something like, “Your apology means a lot. That’s all I wanted.” Or your partner may ask for more.

Related: Stunning Secrets of Lasting Marriages

Restoring trust broken by misguided or harsh words or actions often takes time, especially if there’s a pattern of breaking trust. Your spouse may want to see if you’re walking the walk before trusting you again.

Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

Last Modified: November 5, 2017, 10:42 pm

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