“A happy marriage is the union of two forgivers.” That’s what we’ve been told, and it’s true. To gracefully give and gracefully accept apologies is a healthy interaction for spouses to exchange with each other. Who doesn’t do things that we shouldn’t sometimes? That’s why we all need to ask for forgiveness from our spouse at different times and give it to our spouse at other times. Hopefully, we will do so gracefully.
In the previous Marriage Insight (Apologies that Make a Positive Difference) we talked about the importance of apologizing when we’ve hurt our spouse. We also gave tips on how to apologize in ways that can help to heal the hurts we’ve caused. In this Insight we’ll touch on a few more points about graciously giving an apology. But we’re also focusing on gracefully accepting apologies.
We often hesitate at giving apologies; but we can also hesitate in accepting them. However, the longer we hold back, the more complicated the whole situation gets. We just prolong the pain when there are unresolved issues sitting between us. As a result we go over those issues time and time again in our minds. Eventually, they are able to grow bigger than life! And what’s good or healthy about that?
So, here are a few additional thoughts on gracefully giving our apologies to our spouse when we should. And afterward, we’ll give thoughts on accepting apologies.
Sincerely and Gracefully Give Apologies
First, make sure you SINCERELY apologize to your spouse. You may want to squirm away from doing this. But holding back only muddies and complicates the whole matter. No matter what, take full responsibility for the hurt you caused. And go the extra mile beyond just expressing simple regret.
“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 she 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. It dates back to the very first humans, Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3, we clearly see both trying to absolve themselves of guilt. That’s not the mature and godly response. 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. So, when you apologize, let ‘I’m sorry’ stand alone. Don’t continue by making excuses, such as, ‘But if you didn’t yell at me, I would not have done it.’ Leave the buts out of your apology. Instead, take responsibility for your own actions.” (Gary Chapman, from “The One Love Language Minute Devotional”)
Here’s a good tip to remember:
“Happy couples apologize with the ‘B’ word. Quickly saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ is a bad apology because it often comes off as insincere. It can also trigger another battle. Next time you seek mercy, add the ‘B’ word. Say, ‘I’m sorry because…’ and share how you hurt your mate and what you’ll do to prevent the wrongdoing from recurring. Research shows that when you add the ‘because clause’ your words are more persuasive.” (Laurie Puhn, from the article, “10 Truths About Happy Marriages”)
Just make sure you say, “I’m sorry because…” Saying, “I’m sorry, but…” is not acceptable. That’s blame shifting. And that only complicates the matter, rather than help it.
And that leads us to the next important point:
Refrain from Giving “Half-Baked” Apologies.
There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to apologize to our spouse. It takes humility and it’s uncomfortable. That’s one of the reasons why many spouses don’t give apologies that are acceptable. It’s hard! But you offend your spouse even further when you don’t apologize and fully express sorrow. Kevin B. Bullard makes a great point to consider in his 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 we need 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.”
Refrain from Giving Stiff Apologies
Additionally, ask God to show you how to give your spouse the compassion they need. And if you don’t feel it deep within, then ask God to work within you. The two scriptures we often pray, that are appropriate for you to pray in this situation are:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Be prayerfully contemplative about this. God wants us to confess our sins to one another. If you have offended your spouse, you need to sincerely confess and ask for forgiveness. Seek God in this. Ask Him to lead you to go to your spouse in the “right spirit” —in the “way everlasting” so the offense no longer separates you. Stiff apologies don’t work to repair relationships.
We’ve all seen the child (or have been the child) that is prompted by a parent to tell someone they’re sorry. And what does the child do? He or she mutters a stiff, barely audible, “Sorry.” In other words, he or she is saying, “Okay, I said it; so now can I get away from here?”
In a marriage, the answer is, no! You can’t; and you won’t. Your spouse will not be satisfied with a token apology. That doesn’t help anything. All it does is show immaturity and a lack of compassion. Plus, it piles on more hurt.
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.”
Apologies that Heal
Healing the wounds, we have caused is the ultimate goal in apologizing and asking for forgiveness. “Half baked” and stiff apologies don’t heal anything. They, instead frustrate. So, humble yourself; and don’t hesitate to apologize to your spouse when you hurt him or her.
We can tell you from firsthand experience that this has made a HUGE difference in our marriage relationship. When we learned how to empty ourselves and gracefully give and accept apologies, our marriage relationship rose to a higher level of intimacy. This leads us to two important points:
“Humble yourself enough to give or receive a genuine apology. At a certain point in every marriage, one or both of you is bound to mess up. Someone will do something to disappoint the other. But the hallmark of a good marriage is how well you move past these incidents. Can you sincerely say ‘I’m sorry’ without being prompted? Can you accept when your spouse says, ‘I’m sorry’ without questioning their sincerity?” (Tara Pringle Jefferson)
Those are biggies.
Gracefully Accept Apologies:
On the other hand, when the tables are turned (and we’re the one who is asked to forgive), try to be gracious. Give the forgiveness you would want your spouse to give you when you apologize. It’s difficult to let go of our wish for them to “suffer” somehow first for it. But God wants us to release this “right” to Him. We are to let go and let God work in and through situations like these.
Just make sure when your spouse apologizes and confesses to you that you:
“Become a safe place for your spouse to confess. When your spouse confesses, you may experience lots of feelings. Try to find the balance between sharing those feelings and being still so that your spouse will not second-guess their choice, to be honest with you. Extend grace and mercy because that’s what Jesus does for us. This does not mean, though, that consequential sins should not be confronted (for example, creating a plan to deal with an addiction). Extend forgiveness to your spouse; and then ask the Lord to bless them in the very area where they struggle or sin.” (Joshua Pease)
There’s no doubt you would want the same. We all do.
Another Noteworthy Point
It’s important that we give grace when our spouse puts the genuine effort into apologizing. It’s tempting to push our spouse away in subtle ways:
“We might, for instance, mumble under our breath, a sigh, [roll our eyes] 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. Plus, 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) offers an apology, try to 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.” (From the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love”, written by Richard and Kristine Carlson)
Gracefully Accept Apologies
In addition, here’s some advice from Counselor, Pamela Lipe:
“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 encourage you to ask the Lord to help you to be as gracious as it is possible. Sometimes it takes longer to heal. Just know that it’s fine to give yourself the necessary time to do so. But to the best of your ability, lean into the healing process. Sometimes we can draw something out longer than we should. It’s tempting to hold onto hurt that we should be releasing. And holding onto unforgiveness can poison our 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) This includes your spouse.
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. We can only do this by the power of God. The Holy Spirit will enable us to forgive even the unforgivable.” (Stormie Omartian)
Also, please don’t use anything in this Insight 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, even more. Graciously give and graciously receive. And ask the Lord to show you how to work with your situation to build healthy relationship bridges wherever it is possible. You aren’t accountable for your spouse’s motivations and actions, but you are for your own.
We pray this helps.
Cindy and Steve Wright
Here are more articles to read concerning this issue:
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below: