It’s important to know that apologies are not created equal. Just because you apologize, it doesn’t mean that the receiver feels you really “get it” as far as how much they have hurt you. As a result, they very well may reject your sincerity when you apologize. And when that happens you are stunned.
Here’s an example of a case in point that involved Dr Gary Chapman. He wrote:
They were sitting in my office when the wife said, “I’d forgive him if he would just apologize.”
He responded, “I did apologize.”
“You did not.”
“I told you I was sorry,” he said.
“That is not an apology,” she responded.”
Have you been in the place Dr Chapman described? You apologized and your spouse says you haven’t. Or maybe your spouse says he or she apologized, and you just don’t see it that way. You feel there’s a disconnect in the sincerity of their apology. And now you both feel misunderstood and frustrated.
This happens to A LOT couples. Often, it’s not easy to know what the other spouse expects as far as an apology.
Many—actually, most spouses don’t approach and receive apologies in the same way. As a result, many apologies go flat, and it doesn’t register with the offended spouse.
Apologies That Make a Difference
Apologizing is a difficult thing to do the right way. You say: “I’ve already said I’m sorry, what more does she/he want from me?” Or “I said I’m sorry once —that should be enough!” Or “I give up! What more can a human being do to make him/her understand that I’m sorry?!”
The “what more” that can be done, is being sorry enough that you make sure your spouse knows beyond a shadow of doubt, that you TRULY “get it” as far as how much you hurt him or her. Guard against being one who appears to be giving an apology equaling only a handful’s worth of sorrow when your spouse feels you have piled a bucket’s worth of hurt onto him or her.
YOU may know that you are truly sorry. But does your spouse perceive it that way? It’s important to give what they truly need, not what would satisfy you. Your spouse approaches matters like these differently than you do. If that’s the case, make the extra (sincere) effort to meet your spouse’s needs.
After all, who is the apology really for? Is it for you or is it for your hurting spouse?
Or could it be that you’re giving your spouse your type of “fix” for the situation so you can get it all behind you? Again, that may meet your needs, but does it meet the needs of your (offended) spouse? Does your apology go the “extra mile” (as we’re told in Matthew 5:41)? Do you show sincere remorse, and willingness to do whatever it takes to help heal the damage you’ve afflicted upon your spouse? There IS a difference!
Apologizing So Your Spouse is Fully Satisfied
If your apology is made to appease you and make YOUR life easier, giving what YOU believe is enough, it probably won’t work in reality. It may even introduce more frustration, anger, and grief into the whole matter. The emphasis needs to be on the receiver —not the giver. This is the type of situation where it definitely is “more blessed to give than to receive.”
But if you are truly sorry for what you’ve done, then you need to express it in a way that opens his or her heart. It means getting out of YOUR comfort zone. You must be being willing to enter theirs. You may not be comfortable with the questioning that comes when you confess your sorrow. But you need to be willing to allow them to deal with the healing process in a way that works for them. It might not make sense to you. But if it satisfies them and brings rest to the issue, then that is part of the price you should be willing to pay.
Even if you never meant to hurt your spouse, don’t let that stop you from apologizing, as you should. You have to deal with the reality of the situation. If you run over your spouse’s foot with an automobile —even if you did it by accident, it still hurt them. And you should make sure they know how sorry you are for hurting them.
We say all of this because we battled with this issue for a number of years until we both had our “ah-ha” moments. We finally “got it” as far as what a sincere apology entails. Below are a few things we learned that helped us to get there.
The “How-To’s” of Apologies
First, here are some tips to help you to apologize in ways that can help you and your spouse connect. These are very similar to the ones we learned and now have implemented in our marriage. Author Janis Abrahms Springs gives the following practical advice when dealing with apologies:
1. Take responsibility for the damage you caused.
2. Make your apology personal.
3. Make your apology specific.
4. And make your apologies deep (apologize for the whole truth of what you did).
5. Make your apology heartfelt.
6. Make your apology clean (no buts or qualifications).
7. Apologize repeatedly, if needed. (From the book, How Can I Forgive You?)
Additionally, here are two more important suggestions given by Kate:
• Don’t dismiss your spouse’s feelings. Whether you agree or disagree with how your spouse feels, everyone’s feelings deserve to be seen and heard.
• Don’t use statements such as: “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “If I offended you, I’m sorry,” or “I’m sorry you took it that way.” All these statements lack personal responsibility and indirectly point the blame at the other person. (From The Dating Diva’s article, “8 Steps to Giving Sincere Apologies in Marriage“)
Apologies That Don’t Feel Heartfelt
Continuing on this same issue, the following is a “Question of the Week” email that was sent to us a number of years ago by Gary Smalley Ministries. These tips helped us a lot. If you need to change the pronouns, please do so. The concept works either way:
Q: My wife is very sensitive, and she says that I am not. She feels that my apologies are obligatory and not heartfelt. When I hurt her feelings, I want to make it right, but I often fumble over my words. How can I apologize and convince her that I mean it?
A: The following are just a few thoughts for crafting great apologies:
1. Put some thought into it.
“There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (Proverbs 29:20 NLT) Your spouse will know the sincerity of your apology by the amount of thought you have given to it.
2. Focus on your spouse’s feelings, not issues.
“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1) Resolution focuses on the issue; but reconciliation focuses on the relationship. Let your spouse know that your marriage is more important than the disagreement.
3. Become a great wordsmith.
Pick great, meaningful words. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
4. Remember, less is often more.
Sometimes in our apologies we can bring up new issues as we try to make amends over one. Remember: “Fire goes out for lack of fuel…” (Proverbs 26:20 NLT) “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow.” (Proverbs 10:19 NLT) “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint; and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 17:27-28) “When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)
Hopefully these will help you move from repetitive and programmed to meaningful and heartfelt apologies.
More Tips on this Issue Given by Gary Smalley:
Q: My wife says that I am one of the fastest apologizers she knows. She says the speed and repetition of my apologies voids the sincerity. She believes that when I say “I’m sorry” it is just to get out of a fight. I can’t win. Any suggestions?
A: Become a great wordsmith. Find new words and ways to say, “I’m sorry.” When you use the right words—loving words, you change the atmosphere of your relationship. Proverbs says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
Put some thought into your apology. Be specific. Instead of a simple “I’m sorry,” make it more of a complete sentence. “I’m sorry for snapping at you in the car earlier.” “I’m sorry for being late again. Here are two more: “I’m going to try harder to get home on time.” “I’m sorry that I was an idiot earlier.”
When you give the reason for your apology you communicate that you understand the frustration. The hidden marriage manual in every woman knows when the apology is given to claim the hurt or to simply smooth something over.
We all need to learn to settle accounts quickly and do it with clarity of thought.
Giving a Sincere Apology
Below are some tips given in Steven Stosny’s article, “How to Give a Sincere Apology”:
The primary purpose of apology is to restore eventual (not necessarily immediate) connection. It is never to defend your ego.
Apologies must NOT:
1. Be contingent on your partner apologizing
2. Be tempered by excuses
3. Have any element of blame (“It takes one to know one.”)
4. Seek immediate forgiveness (Trust must be restored gradually, through behavior that demonstrates trustworthiness over time.)
1. Come from your core value and sympathize with the effect of your behavior on your partner. (Focus on what it meant to your partner, not on how you would have been affected by it.)
2. State how important your partner’s well-being is to you.
3. State how sorry you are that you’ve done something to hurt your partner and/or break your connection.
4. Offer recompense: “How can I make it up to you?”
5. If the offense is recurring, describe an action-plan to prevent future repetition of the offending behavior (which violated your core value to the extent that it hurt your partner or your relationship).
Below is something else you might not have thought of previously. We hadn’t. Pastor Mark Gungor explains how men and women often approach apologizing differently. Mark writes:
“In my Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminar I explain how a man’s brain tends to compartmentalize things. It’s like men have separate boxes in their heads for everything: money, sex, kids, wife, in-laws, etc. And for a guy these boxes don’t touch. He thinks about one thing at a time and then moves on to the next thing since one box isn’t connected to another.
“Then I go on to explain how a woman’s brain is like a big ball of wire where everything is connected to everything and there is no compartmentalizing. Money can be connected to the in-laws and sex can be connected to the kids. Things can run together very easily in a woman’s brain.
“These two very opposite ways of thinking and processing cause men and women to communicate in different ways. There is one area this is particularly evident and often problematic —the apology. Because men have this unique ability to compartmentalize, a guy can go to his ‘apology box’, say he’s sorry for something he did, close that box and then move on to the next task. In his mind he took care of it. He said he was sorry. So, it’s done, and life goes on. But that’s just not so for a woman…”
Important Note: This is a generalization. Mark acknowledges that sometimes the reverse is true. The woman’s brain compartmentalizes everything, and the man’s brain connects everything. But it helps to know this.
To learn more read Mark Gungor’s article:
Responsibly Apologizing: Expressing Regret, Reasons, and Remedies
When we apologize, it’s important to take responsibility for our actions. Plus, it’s important to say more than a simple, “I’m sorry” and expect all of the consequences of your actions to disappear. We may want them to disappear, but that’s not usually what happens.
It’s also important to explain and show how much you regret doing (or saying) what you did. Go the extra mile on that one. After-all, you hurt your spouse. A quick Band-Aid solution can come across as ingenue.
Additionally, give a short “reason” you did (said) it in the first place. It may have been a stupid thing you did without thinking; but be mature enough admit it. This doesn’t excuse your actions. It just gives clarification behind them. Please don’t allow your original “reasons” to overshadow the hurt you caused. The focus should be on your sorrow for hurting your spouse, not justifying why you did (or said) something that hurt him or her.
And then make sure you express the reason you’re sorry. (“I now know that I hurt you; and I never want to do that.” “I know I was wrong, and I should never have done/said that.”) Plus, it’s important to tell your spouse how you will change that type of behavior in the future. Then make sure you follow through on this “remedy” (or remedies) part of your apology.
And then afterward, ask your spouse, “Are we okay?” He or she may or may not think so. If your spouse feels that way, then work on that! It’s not good to assume everything is good between you when it isn’t. What good is an apology if your spouse is not feeling better afterward?
Links to Help in Your Apologies
With this in mind, below is a link to another article to read on the subject of apologizing. Christian Psychologist Phil Monroe answers the following question:
And then Dr Gary Chapman gives even more info on what your spouse considers to be a good apology. We encourage you to read:
Additionally, you can obtain the book that Dr Chapman and his co-author Jennifer Thomas, wrote titled, The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in all Your Relationships.
And then lastly, Ellie Grant gives husbands a guide for apologizing to address your wife’s pain after adultery:
Please Know That:
“A repentant spirit is a healing balm to breaking the cycle of blame in a marital relationship. The entire life of a Christian is one of continual repentance. Repentance is a prerequisite for reconciliation since a change of ways has to occur to heal grievances.” (Dr Randall A. Schroeder)
In closing, here is something to prayerfully consider:
“An apology is a good way to have the last word.”
Please prayerfully consider all of this when you give and when you are given an apology.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
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