Marriage is a wonderful opportunity to learn the fine art of apologizing. No matter how hard we may try to treat each other with kindness, there will be failures. Harshly spoken words, disrespectful actions and bitter behaviors can bring pain to a relationship. But there is healing in the effort to apologize, take ownership and change.
Apologies can be very simple while still being sincere and powerful. Miraculously, it can make not only the recipient but also the giver feel better.
There are elements that can make an apology more complete and honest. Here are some suggestions:
1. Do it now
It can feel scary to bring up the hurtful remembrance, but amazingly a genuine apology can be cleansing. Once I received an apology almost two decades after a person had hurt me. I was astonished at how easily the mud cleared. Yet I wonder what it would have been like for both of us to get those feelings behind us years ago. The thought of not having carried the resentment through three interstate moves, like a broken chair we mean to get fixed someday, sounds wonderful. I use that memory to jar me when my own apology mechanism feels stuck.
2. Say it fully
Occasionally I find myself trying to minimize the hurt I have caused. It feels as if I am an elephant trying to hide behind a tree trunk. I need to speak with integrity about what I have done. Integrity is a word that means “whole”. Say the whole story.
3. Share how you felt
Saying how you felt is quite different than making excuses, or blaming. It can be the bridge that connects people over what may seem like an impassable gorge. “I am sorry. I was scared that something had happened to you and I reacted from fear,” can be much easier to hear than “You were late and that made me so angry”.
4. Describe what your hopes are
Part of the magic of an apology is the opportunity to rebuild. Describe what kind of interaction you would like to do next time. “I want to be worthy of your trust” is an intention that can bring you together instead of divide you. Being vulnerable enough to tell someone what you are striving for makes them part of your cheering section.
5. Assure your spouse that you will handle it differently next time
You have a past behind you that cannot be altered, but before you is a future with endless possibilities! Invest in your future together.
Have couples take together about forgiveness in their relationship. Invite them to tell each other about apologies that have brought healing and others that are still pending. Then bring it back to the whole group for discussion.