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 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 only gives an apology equaling only a handful’s worth of sorrow. That’s especially true when you have piled a bucket’s worth of hurt onto your partner. Give what they really need, not what would satisfy you. You are different from your spouse. So give what is needed to remedy the situation.
After all, who is the apology really for? Is it for you or for your spouse (the one you hurt)? Are you giving your spouse your type of “fix” for the situation so you can get it all behind you? Or is your apology one where you 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.
“Regret says, ‘I’m sorry. I feel badly that I hurt you.’ Sincere regret needs to stand alone. It should never be followed with ‘But…’ One husband told me, ‘My wife apologizes, then blames her actions on something I did to provoke her. Blaming me does little to make the apology sincere.’ A wife said, ‘He apologized but then added that I was acting like a baby and that he had a right to do what he did. What kind of apology is that?’ In my opinion, that is not an apology; it’s shifting blame.
Shifting blame is easy to do and dates back to the very first humans, Adam and Eve. In the above passage from Genesis 3, we clearly see both of them trying to absolve themselves of guilt. That’s not the mature and godly response—and in their case, God saw right through it and held both of them responsible. When we shift the blame to the other person, we have moved from apology to attack. Blaming and attacking never lead to forgiveness and reconciliation. When you are apologizing, let ‘I’m sorry’ stand alone. Don’t continue by making excuses, such as, ‘But if you had not yelled at me, I would not have done it.’ Leave the buts out of your apology and take responsibility for your own actions.” (Gary Chapman, from “The One Love Language Minute Devotional” – June 23)
Your intentions may have been “perfect.” You may have wanted to only show love and not hurt. But it’s like what it says in the book, When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love (written by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas). They wrote:
“It is true that perfect love would never hurt the one loved. But none of us is capable of perfect love for one simple reason. We are imperfect. The Bible makes this very clear. We are all sinners. (See: Romans 3:23.) Even those who say they are Christians are still capable of sinning. That is why we must learn to confess our sins to God and to the person we’ve sinned against. (See: 1 John 1:8-10.) Good marriages are not dependent upon perfection. But they are dependent upon willingness to acknowledge our wrong and seek forgiveness.”
And just to warn you: Some spouses are not open in the beginning to fully receive your apology after you’ve deeply hurt them. It can be like a layer of unhealthy scar tissue that has built up to such an extent that it interferes with the healing process. But by properly working with the scar tissue, the healing can begin.
So be patient and do what it takes to help your marital partner know that you are seriously sorry for how you have hurt them. When we handle the gravity of the situation as we should it shows maturity. Properly apologizing shows we own up to our actions and truly want the healing to take place in our marriage. Even if they never forgive you, you should still do your part in this process.
Receiving the Apology
For those on the receiving end of the apology, ask the Lord to help you to be as gracious as it is possible. Sometimes it takes longer to heal, and it’s fine to give yourself the necessary time to do so. But to the best of your ability, try to lean into the healing process. Sometimes we can draw something out longer than we should. That is because we hold onto hurt that we should be releasing. Holding onto unforgiveness can poison our own inner being and prolong the pain.
“The difference between holding on to a hurt or releasing it with forgiveness is like the difference between laying your head down at night on a pillow filled with thorns or a pillow filled with rose petals.” (Loren Fincher)
Remember the grace the Lord extended to us “while we were yet sinners.” And remember the forgiveness He readily gives us, when we ask for it. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
When You Can’t Forgive
“If you feel you can’t forgive, ask God to penetrate your unforgiveness with His love. When we have to do the impossible, God says that the way it happens is ‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.‘ (Zechariah 4:6) This means that certain things will not be accomplished by human strength, but only by the power of God. The Holy Spirit will enable us to forgive even the unforgivable.” (Stormie Omartian)
And lastly, please don’t use anything in this message as a weapon against your spouse. Some husbands and wives will take that, which is intended to bring you together to justify their actions in a way that is anything but gracious. That only complicates everything, all the more. Graciously give and graciously receive. And ask the Lord to show you how to work with your situation so you are building healthy relationship bridges wherever it is possible. You aren’t accountable for your spouse’s motivations and actions, but you are for your own.
Next week, we will visit this subject again from a different angle. But also know that we have the topic on our web site titled Bitterness and Forgiveness that could help you on this important journey.
In the meantime, we pray you will work to go “the extra mile” in apologizing and also in receiving apologies. May all you do be as “unto the Lord” that He may be glorified!
Cindy and Steve Wright
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Marriage Messages