“A happy marriage is the union of two forgivers.” That’s what we’ve been told, and it’s really true. Being able to gracefully give and accept apologies is healthy interaction for spouses to exchange with each other. Who doesn’t do things that we shouldn’t sometimes?
And when we do things we shouldn’t, and we sincerely apologize, we want our spouse to forgive us. But when the tables are turned (and we’re the one who is asked to forgive), we’re often not as gracious. It’s difficult to let go of our wish for them to “suffer” somehow first for it.
A small book titled, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love, written by Richard and Kristine Carlson (Hyperion Publishers), touches on this issue. Prayerfully consider what the Carlson’s point out:
“Sadly, many people find it difficult to apologize. Over the years, the two of us have heard a number of very wise people speculate that one of the reasons this might be true is because, when we do apologize, it’s often accepted in less than a graceful manner.
“…I overheard what I thought was an excellent example of this problem while I was sitting at a coffee shop. With tears in her eyes, a woman was sharing with her husband that she was sorry that her work had become consuming. Apparently, she had been traveling a great deal. She was spending lots of time away from him and their children. I gathered that this was taking a toll on the family as well as on their relationship.
“Obviously, I don’t know all the facts. And they certainly aren’t any of my business. However, regardless of the specifics, one thing was perfectly clear. His inability to soften and open his heart in response to her genuine, heartfelt apology was guaranteeing an escalation of any problems they were already having. Rather than hug her, hold her hand, or reassure his wife, he gave her a disapproving look. That seemed to make her heart sink.
“While I have no way of knowing for sure, it appeared as though he was trying to make her feel even guiltier than she already felt.
Opening Doors With Apology
“Like everyone who offers an apology, this woman was opening the door to loving communication, a possible compromise, or perhaps even a solution. In order for an apology to be effective, however, both parties must do their part.
“In this instance, the woman’s husband wasn’t willing to do so. Consequently, he was missing an opportunity to strengthen their relationship. He was increasing the likelihood that she would become less apologetic in the future. She might even begin to see him as the problem. When apologies aren’t accepted, bitterness and resentment often creep into the picture.
“Granted, most of us will probably not be quite as visibly ungraceful in our acceptance of an apology. However, we might push our partner away in other, more subtle ways. We might, for instance, mumble under our breath, a sigh, make a condescending comment such as ‘It’s about time,’ or in some other way minimize or fail to fully accept the apology.
“We’ve found that, in most instances, an apology is an excellent opportunity to deepen our partnership. It’s an ideal time to make a genuine effort to listen deeply and respectfully. It’s a time to experience empathy and gratitude for the fact that our partner is willing to apologize. This is something not everyone is able to do.
“Further, when we accept an apology, it makes it far more likely that our partner will do the same for us when it’s our turn to apologize.
“The next time your spouse (or anyone else) offers an apology, see if you can really take it to heart. Soften your edges and open your heart. You may find that, despite whatever the apology is about, your relationship will be able to enter a new, even more rewarding, phase.”
Giving Grace When You Accept Apologies
If taken seriously, these thoughts from the Carlson’s can bring healing into our marriages. May we give grace whenever possible to help us “return to emotional closeness!” Counselor, Pamela Lipe, put it this way,
“When you’re in the position of accepting an apology, give yourself a ‘Mental Pause’ to decide the best course of action for you, your spouse, your situation, and the particular wrongdoing. Keep in mind the long-term consequences to the relationship. Your goal is to return to emotional closeness.”
We’re told in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (which includes your spouse).
In Colossians 3:13, Paul encourages us to “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” So, whenever you can accept apologies as gracefully as possible.
Graceful Accepting of Apologies
Someone calling themselves “Hunger” wrote the following on this subject of accepting an apology gracefully:
“In accepting an apology, I find there are different ways. I was taught to accept it upfront and not to wave it away IF I am ready to accept the apology. If I am not, I try to be honest about why I cannot at the time. I still feel hurt and I just need time to heal before I can forgive. But I need to let the person know I have received the apology and I would not expect another one just because I wasn’t ready to hear it yet.
“Other times, it may be beneficial for me to accept the apology more gracefully, like stating ‘I am grateful for your apology. I did feel hurt or offended. I also can understand that you have a different experience/position/whatever word fits here and I want to respect you for that. So your apology means a lot to me. It will keep our communication open.’ Something to that order. It helps bring the one who is apologizing to know that I do respect them as equal in my mind.”
Keep in mind that the goal in marriage is to continually look for ways to build bridges, rather than put up walls that separate you, so emotional closeness is possible.
Going Beyond Giving Simple Apologies
With that said, we can’t close this message without touching on the point that sometimes we don’t ACCEPT apologies as we should. But also, sometimes we don’t GIVE apologies that are acceptable. Kevin B. Bullard makes a great point to consider in the Mymarriageworks.org article, titled, “Half Baked Apologies are Offensive”:
“When we offend our spouse by our words, actions, or attitude, it’s common to want to take the easy way out by offering a simple, ‘Sorry’ or ‘I apologize.’ However, just saying these words without proper context is just as hurtful as our first offense. It’s much more effective and meaningful if we extend the ‘apology’ by admitting our wrong. We need to acknowledge our spouse’s hurt, intending not to do it again, and ask for forgiveness. Doing this becomes easier when we recognize we hurt our spouse.
“Here’s the full apology: ‘I’m sorry for (the offense). I know it (the effect it had on your spouse). I was wrong. And I intend not to do it again. Will you forgive me?’
“Example: ‘Cetelia, I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of our guests. I know it hurt your esteem. I was wrong. And I intend not to do it again. Will you forgive me?’
“While these words may be difficult to utter, they can make a world of difference when offered from a sincere heart.”
It’s important to consider what G. K. Chesterton wrote,
“A stiff apology is a second insult… The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged. He wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
We encourage you to gracefully give and also accept apologies, as the Lord would have you. We realize that you can’t MAKE your spouse do what he or she should. But you can put intentionality into being dispensers of grace and forgiveness “as far as it depends upon you” —especially in your marriage (a model of Christ’s love for the church). Pray about it and see how GOD leads.
Cindy and Steve Wright
Here are more articles to read concerning this issue:
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