Apologies That Make A Positive Difference

 sorry-apologies-AdobeStock_55285478It’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.

The following is a case in point:

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 your apologies often fallen flat? Do your spouse’s apologies connect and motivate you to forgive? Or are you married to someone who will seldom even try to apologize?

The above scenario as well as the questions was written and posed by Dr Gary Chapman. Have you been in the place that he just described? A LOT couples have been there. It seems that it’s just not as easy to know what the other spouse expects as far as an apology.

All of this seems simple enough, but many times, people just don’t approach matters the same way. As a result, their apology goes flat and it doesn’t register with the offended spouse.

Apologies That Make a Difference

First, here is something more that Dr Gary Chapman says about apologizing:

“After two years of research, Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I discovered that people have different apology languages. A person may be sincerely apologizing and yet, the apology isn’t perceived as sincere because it’s spoken in the wrong language. We discovered five distinct languages of apology.

• Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.”

“I feel badly that my behavior has hurt you so deeply.” This language identifies with the emotions of the offended party.

• Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”

Name your mistake and accept fault. “I should not have done that. There’s no excuse. What I did was wrong.”

• Making Restitution: “What could I do to make this right?

How can I make amends to you? How could I restore your confidence in me?”

• Genuine Repentance: “I’ll try not to do that again.”

Repentance doesn’t make rash promises, such as “I promise I’ll never do it again if you’ll forgive me.” However, repentance does express the desire to change one’s behavior. “I don’t want this to continue happening. Help me think of ways I can change my behavior.”

• Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

This language expresses humility. “I realize I can’t restore this relationship alone. It will require mercy on your part, but my sincere desire is that you will forgive me and we can continue our relationship.”

Advice Concerning Apologies

Additionally, author, Janis Abrahms Springs, (from her book, How Can I Forgive You?) gives the following practical advice when dealing with this matter:

1. Take responsibility for the damage you caused.
2. Make your apology personal.
3. Make your apology specific.
4. 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.

Apologies That Don’t Feel Heartfelt

On this same issue, the following is a “Question of the Week” that was sent to us by Smalleyonline.com:

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 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). The other person will know the sincerity of your apology by the amount of thought you have given to it.

2. Focus on her 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 wife 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 three new issues as we try to make amends over one. 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.

A Question on Apologies Addressed 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. 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

From Steven Stosny’s article, “How to Give a Sincere Apology” he gives the following tips:

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.)

Apologies must:

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).

Approaching the Apology

As far as apologizing, below is something you might not have thought of previously. Pastor Mark Gungor explains how men and women often approach apologizing differently. He writes:

“In my Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminar I explain in detail 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 at all. 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 very 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 or thing to think about. 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…”

To learn more read Mark Gungor’s article:



With this in mind, below is a link to another article to read on the subject of apologizing. It is written by Christian Psychologist Phil Monroe, who answers the 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, in light of all that was written, here is something to prayerfully consider:

“An apology is a good way to have the last word.”

Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.

If you have additional advice to help others, “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

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Filed under: Bitterness and Forgiveness Communication and Conflict

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19 responses to “Apologies That Make A Positive Difference

  1. (USA)  We are a blended family she has 3 kids, I have 3 kids and we have a 3 year old between us. We’ve been married 5 years. My wife leaves the house for 3 to 4 months at a time when her 15, 12 year olds have a problem with authority. They refuse to obey no matter what! But it seems I’m the only one that is having to change.

    I now understand how to deal with the kids. I have given my wife the space to see what I mean to her. I’m tired of being LAST! I always get put on the back burner. I feel abandoned by my wife. Her kids try their best telling grandparents friends etc. how rotten I make their lives. And my wife does nothing to displine the girls. I feel deeply abandoned. She has a house 20 miles from here and it wouldn’t be like this if she Loved me. I can’t understand why this should be. I’m lonely for my wife!

    1. Hi Mark, If anyone says it’s easy to “blend” families, they are completely out of touch. One of the main reasons why remarriages fail is because the “blending” equals more of a “clashing” of families. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of learning how to come together to work through family issues, which arise. What I HIGHLY encourage you to do is to go into the “Remarriage” topic. Read what you can, concerning issues you are encountering, and then go into the “Links” part if it to contact one of the ministries we link to, which deals with these types of issues, from first-hand experience.

      The one we usually recommend is In Step Ministries. Jeff Parziale is REALLY good on helping step families navigate through problems and come together. He’s personally in a remarriage situation with “children” (though grown) involved and so he knows how to work with this type of thing. And he’s a great guy. He’s not a high pressure counselor. He does phone counseling and coaching — so you just set it up for an appointed time. And then he’ll listen to your concerns and the dynamics of what you’re dealing with and just tell you what he believes would be best for your situation. Whether or not you take his advice, is up to you.

      Being in a step family situation is not as simple as it may seem — that if the children weren’t in the picture, you and your wife would do fine. That may be true, but whether or not it is, they AREN’T out of the picture. You have to deal with reality, rather than what you want. Sometimes help is needed to figure out how to get beyond a roadblock in your relationship. We might THINK we know how to handle it, but lets face it, if it isn’t working, then it would be best to get help from someone who has learned, from experience. I hope you will. You, your wife, and all of the children involved don’t need another divorce to happen. It’s best to get help, when it’s needed. (And I believe you need it.) Even if your wife won’t join in, in the beginning, you can be the first to reach out. I truly hope this goes in a good direction for you and your wife.

  2. (USA)  Hi, I am 27 and I was unfaithfull to my husband for 9 months. I am very sorry and confessed to him what I did. I wanted to have peace and feel free. Now he can’t forgive me and I really want to work on my marriage. He is not a Christian. I have a 4 years old daughter with special needs. I asked God for forgiveness and I know he has forgiven me. I really want my husband to forgive me. I don’t know how to say how sorry I am. He is so hurt…

    Any suggestion will be nice.

  3. (NIGERIA)  Hi, I recently separated from my husband of almost two years due to deep verbal and physical abuse. I have contemplated divorce. Friends are trying to get us back together, but this is the second time I have left due to physical abuse. He has not shown any sign of remorse.

    I read your article on divorce on 10/03/2012 from Marriage Missions, and I am a little confused right now, because I am a Christian and I want to live by Godly standards but I don’t want to end up dead or with wounds that can mame me. What do I do in this situation? We don’t have kids yet.

    1. (UNITED STATES) In the US, women are taught that, no matter your spiritual path, it is never ok for a man to physically harm you. Please consider divorcing this man for your own safety. Consider what it would be like if you have children. He will not stop harming you, no matter what (it will only get worse in my experience), and he will teach your children that it is ok to physically harm our spouse, our children and confuses the expression of love. It is ok to leave this man if he is abusing you. God loves you and wants you to be safe.

  4. Hi, I’ve been married 2 1/2 years. a year ago my marriage took a turn for the worse. I had received a nude picture from a friend and began having explicit text conversation with her. I never deleted the conversation because in my mind I knew I had not cheated (foolish way to think). On Mothers Day my wife just happened to go through my phone and saw everything. She waited 7 months before filing for divorce. She eventually moved out.

    Right before Christmas she moved back so we could work it out. But as of late she has been really planning on going through with the divorce. I’ve expressed how sorry I am how much I and the kids need her. How do I capitalize when she’s on the fence to convince her that our marriage means everything to me and that she is the most important person in my life?

  5. I need help because my marriage is full of noise, strife, blame, unresolved issues, no intimacy, no care, no peace etc. I took time to talk to my husband about it; that we need to work things out for this marriage to survive. I highlighted what I think is the problem and how we arrived where we are – the wrong habits we’ve allowed to weaken our marriage.

    He also highlighted the things I do that hurt him and I need to start there if I want to change. So I admit and I realise I need to but I can’t deal with these things alone they have become a personality. I need a coach to guid me through this change.

    This is the list of things that hurt him:
    1. I must learn to say I am sorry
    2. I must not attack his manhood
    3. Give him a chance to be a man, give orders and reprimand
    4. I must learn to appreciate him
    5. I must respect his office and take instructions
    6. I must not think I work more than him
    7. I must deal with my anger and learn to forgive the past
    8. I must do house chores without murmuring and complaining
    9. I must make his life easy by organising his clothes

    I am willing to do my part because I am tired of being in such a painful marriage. So please help me through.

  6. We have been married for 45 years (together 48). It was always a bad marriage. From day 1 husband out drinking all hours of night, never home. Even disappeared for 2 weeks not knowing where he was or if he was coming back. Our life continued this way for 45 years. Never had a real marriage. Children not raised properly, shoved to the side and their needs never acknowledged. Children got on drugs for many years. 20 to be exact. Oldest son came home very sick, and I had to let go of the decisions he made that got him sick and take care of him till he died.

    I went through all these years alone with no help from father. 6 long months of son dying with no help from his father (staying drunk when his dying son needed him to be with him, give him love and attention. It didn’t happen). I resent my husband not ever being able to give to his family what they needed. Now husband can’t give any affection to me. I need to feel loved. I don’t care how old I am (62) I need to know I am truly loved. He can’t give words, won’t talk. If he can’t talk, I can’t ever feel love. All he can say is “you know I love you or I wouldn’t be here.” My heart has been broken TOO LONG. He HAS to find words to make me feel it. 45 years is TOO LONG to still be wainting. Still feeling like a young bride, but 45 years later. I never was treated with love. No expression of love, and now I can’t give it to him. Broken TOO LONG.

    Why can’t he apoligize with words that say “I love you with all my heart, and I will always tell you how much I love you”? He can’t say this. I can’t feel it if he can’t say it. He thinks I should know it and move on. I’ve had a nervous breakdown, and can’t come out of it, emotional stress too long. I want to be ok, by love.

  7. My wife said we should break up because I failed to tell her the truth. I am stressed and hurt. Please help me to win my wife back.

  8. My husband wanted to surprise me on my 60th birthday and asked friends to write something nice about me so he could make a book for me. As it was getting close to the day he confronted some good friends that did not send him anything. These particular (work) friends had just made me a lovely book 3 months ago for my retirement and never sent him anything for a variety of reasons, the retirement book being one of them. My husband confronted them and said some hurtful things to them.

    I am not sure how to handle this because I know he meant well but in the meantime they are crushed. They have said they were “shocked and disappointed” and “saw a side of him they wished they had never seen.” I truly do not think it was quite that horrible but that is besides the point. I just want to bring peace to the situation and am lost. I know that my husband was saying these things to them to protect me, however, he hurt them deeply and what started out as a present to make me happy has now turned into a huge dispute. Help!

  9. I have severely hurt my husband several times during our 8 year marriage, not with infidelity but by being in his eyes, disrespectful, controlling and rebellious. I am deeply, deeply sorry. However I am also afraid. My husband doesn’t want an apology; he wants to discipline me like a child. He wants to spank me and humiliate me. He wants me to feel physical pain.

    I love my husband very much but how much should I allow given that these are behaviors that are hard for me to change? I see his point about negative consequences, but I’m scared he will really hurt me given his extreme hurt and anger.
    Please, any advice welcomed.

    1. Jaz, This is disturbing behavior. You need to do something about this. As his wife, this is not a father/child relationship where you are the child who has to do things his way or you get spanked. How is this a marriage? Marriage makes you partners, not a child who has to obey her parent. Hitting a spouse is NEVER acceptable –whether it’s the husband hitting the wife or the wife hitting the husband. He isn’t your parent or master; he is your husband –someone who is to reflect the love of Christ to His bride.

      I can’t ever imagine accepting the posture of having my husband hit me because he felt I needed to feel physical pain because he doesn’t like something I said or did. Instead of spanking me, there should be talking and working problems out together as “one.” In Ephesians 5 it says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF FOR HER, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives AS THEIR OWN BODIES; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but NOURISHES AND CHERISHES it, just as the Lord does the church.” That does not include hitting when the wife doesn’t do things to a husband’s liking unless he hits himself. (Even then, this is not appropriate behavior.)

      Also, in 1 Peter 3:8-9 we’re told, “Husbands, in the same way BE CONSIDERATE as you live with your wives, and TREAT THEM WITH RESPECT as the weaker partner and as HEIRS WITH YOU of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. DO NOT REPAY EVIL WITH EVIL OR INSULT WITH INSULT. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” There’s nothing in there about spanking and humiliating a wife. You are both to work together to “cleave together as one” –not insult or assault one another.

      If my husband were trying to spank me because of what he thinks to be some type of childlike “disobedience” he would live alone, without me, until he recognized that he is not to hit me. I’m not his punching (or hitting) bag. I’m his wife and I expect to be treated with love and respect (just as I would work to give him love and respect). That is my humble, prayerful opinion. I think you need to talk to your husband at a non-combative time (when you aren’t arguing, or on edge for some reason), and work this out together. He is NOT your father; he is your husband and partner. Partners don’t spank other partners. It’s important to put down some boundaries here. This is not “normal” behavior for a husband to treat his wife this way. Work on your end of things and talk to your husband (in a respectful way) on his reactive behavior.

  10. My husband and I had some major marital issues about 3 years ago. We separated but it was never an actual separation because we saw each other every week and spoke on the phone/sent text messages almost daily. However…My husband made some very bad choices at the beginning of our so called separation. He betrayed our marriage in a few different ways. He made decisions to do a lot of terrible, hurtful things and put me and our son who is now 8 years old in a very hard and difficult state.

    We have actually reconciled and have been working very hard at saving our marriage for a year and a half now. I’ve had ongoing heartache since reconciling with my husband from my immediate family if you can believe that. My family just informed me that they feel that my husband owes each and every one of them a personal apology for every terrible, hurtful, selfish thing he chose to do to me and our son during the time we were somewhat separated. I DO NOT AGREE WITH MY FAMILIES EXPECTATIONS! Why does my husband have to apologize to them for the pain and heartache he caused me?

    I cannot get over my mom and siblings for feeling this way! It is ME who he needs to apologize to which he has…it is ME that he betrayed and hurt when he made the decisions he made! My husband does not owe my mom or my brother or my sister and their spouses anything of the sort! My husband is not welcome in either of their homes at this point in time he hasn’t been welcome in the year and a half since we have been back together because we wanted to save our marriage! My family is hurting me and my son by insisting on this “apology” from my husband and don’t even see how they are no different from my husband when he did things that hurt me so much! What they are doing is no different because they upset me very much with their expectations that are un justified in my opinion….AM I WRONG??? ARE THEY RIGHT TO DO THIS/EXPECT THIS??? PLEASE HELP ME; I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

    1. Diana, you are not wrong. Your family is being unreasonable. They should be your cheerleaders, cheering you and your husband on to repair your marriage. Yes, your husband hurt you. And you have a right to be hurt. But this is between you and your husband, not your husband and them. Personally, (and I encourage you to pray about this) I would back off a bit from my family. They are making toxic demands. If they ask why tell them that you can’t allow them to cause a divide to happen between you and your husband. They need to let go of their demands and their unreasonable expectations of your husband.

      However, if your husband would give this to you as a gift, that would be great. You can decide if you want to talk to him about this –that you are not trying to make this demand upon him, but it would be so helpful in settling down the your family. If he would humble himself to be the bigger person to do this, yes, it would be a painful experience but a short one. It would be kind of like pulling off a bandaid fast, rather than a LONG slow pull like it’s happening now. I’d sure do this for my husband, but some people wouldn’t. I’d eat crow and eat it humbly. After all, your family DOES mean a lot to you. And he DID hurt you, which of course hurt your family. If he would do this as a gift, then that’s great. But it’s not a demand I would make.

  11. I need you to pray for my marriage. I have a habit to cross boundaries and then I will lie to my wife to cover my mishaps.

  12. I do not normally get involved in other’s personal business, however, this couple is an exception. I am writing for a friend of mine, Carlton. I am very worried about both him and his wife, Charlotte. Carlton recently left Charlotte, meaning the last 3 months or so for another woman. We live in a small town and I fear that once it becomes public about his affair he will face terrible shame.

    It is a surprise to the few of us who know of the affair. His wife, Charlotte adored her husband, Carlton. It is my understanding divorce papers have been filed. I do not know which of them filed for divorce. I feel this couple, my friends got off track and need to realize what all they have together. I worry about my friend, Carlton. The shame, humiliation and shunning he will face from cheating on Charlotte will be astronomical. I would like for him to rethink what he has done by bringing this affair between him and Charlotte. Carlton could not possibly love anyone more than he loves Charlotte.

    I fear he got wrapped up in the affair and lost sight of what he has in Charlotte. He will face terrible embarrassment, I wish to save my friend from this embarrassment. How can I help him to see what he has done is wrong? How can I help my friends? This woman who came between Carlton and Charlotte needs to go on about her business and leave Carlton alone. Carlton needs to remember the love and care he has for Charlotte. I hate, I mean hate to see Carlton and Charlotte to divorce.

    Please help them, help me to help them. Please help me to know how to bring my friends back together, to save Carlton from the shame and the hurt he will bring his family. His children and grandchildren will find humiliation, and extreme embarrassment in his decision. How can I help Carlton to see that his marriage is worth saving? I am hoping by posting this comment Carlton will read in black and white and rethink his actions. Concerned friend.

  13. Thank you for the above; it is an eye opener for me. My husband never apologizes; he claims he is always right. He wants me to apologize all the time, which I did. Now he is asking that I write my apologies on paper. What’s your advice on this?

    1. It kills my wife to say she is sorry. What is that saying? “I’ll just buy him a puppy instead of saying I am sorry.” A lot of this comes from childhood issues. My wife was always blamed for anything that went wrong. Regardless of who did it. Made her very defensive. These childhood things are hard to ever get past.

    2. It’s hard to know what your husband needs exactly from you. It’s a bit disconcerting that your husband never apologizes. Who is always right and never hurts anyone? Only Jesus!

      But if you sincerely owe your husband an apology, then prayerfully consider doing what he asks. Thoroughly reread this blog and the ones linked into it. Ask God to reveal to you what your husband needs from you in an apology. Ask God to help you to be discerning as far as what you should write and what you shouldn’t. If this is a control issue on your husband’s part where he will use this as a weapon against you, you need to be especially careful. But if it’s because he feels you have an ounce of apology for a pound of hurt that you caused him, that is another issue entirely. He will need more from you. He would need to know that you truly are sorry and intend to never to whatever it is again… you realize it was wrong.

      Without knowing details concerning this issue (which is hard to give in this format) I can only give you a reply that may or may not help you. I pray God leads you to a place of understanding, so you can work through this matter with your husband. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ —to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)