I’ve done it so much in our twenty-three-year marriage you’d think I’d be an expert by now. However, I still struggle with genuine apologies in my marriage. Unfortunately, an apology is an art, not a science that can be repeated with predictable results.
In one case, I found myself in the situation that I owed Jennifer a sincere apology. I had messed up big. My mistakes had put her in a lonely and stressful situation. I was grossly neglecting my responsibilities as a husband. Additionally, I was abdicating all parenting activities to her. She was in the all too common position of having a negligent husband and absent father.
It took a pivotal moment and gut-wrenching conversation with Jennifer to open my eyes to my mistakes. I had made the mistake of putting other really good activities before my family. The church became my stumbling block. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting church is a bad thing. My mistake with the church was allowing it to so infiltrate my personal calendar that I had no time or energy remaining for my marriage or family.
That pivotal and gut-wrenching conversation with Jennifer came at a time I was trying to commit to even more activities within the church. Through her tears, Jennifer was finally able to get me to understand how badly I was failing as a husband and father. She didn’t call me a miserable failure, but I finally realized the mistakes I was making and how badly they damaged my family. I felt like a miserable failure.
Upon this realization, I really had only one option. Apologize. Let me share with you the elements of a proper apology. The elements won’t turn an apology into a science, but they will remove much of the mystery in the art of apology.
It’s simple really. Without sincerity, you have no apology. However, an attempted apology without sincerity is probably worse than you think. It’s manipulative. To go through the motions of an apology without sincere feelings of regret and sorrow represents a lack of integrity and manipulation at a minimum.
When faced with the reality we’ve offended our spouse, we have three possible reactions. We can accept responsibility, decide our spouse is simply overreacting, or acknowledge their feelings but negate the severity. Only the first reaction leads to sincerity. If you aren’t at a point of accepting responsibility for the offense, at least acknowledge your spouse’s feelings of being offended. This indicates to your spouse you’ve heard them and gives them the hope of reconciliation.
A proper apology can’t include these three words: if, but, because. An apology is unconditional. “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.” “I’m sorry I was rude, but you don’t understand how bad my day was.” “I’m sorry. I yelled at you because my stress level is through the roof.” The word “if” invalidates your spouse’s feelings. Using “but” deflect personal responsibility for your own actions. And saying “because” suggests there are certain situations where your behavior is justified.
Additionally, an apology isn’t conditional on reciprocation. “Well, I’ll apologize to him for being so critical when he apologizes to me for being so lazy.” Apologies are completely one-sided and unconditional by definition. An apology is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. A sincere apology doesn’t bring up the past mistakes of the other spouse.
To be continued…
I have three more crucial elements to a proper apology. I’ll share those with you in my next article. In the meantime, I challenge you to accept responsibility for your actions inside your marriage relationship. The moment you believe the struggles in your marriage are entirely the fault of your spouse, you are entirely wrong. That belief, in and of itself, is something that requires an apology. Go to your spouse sincerely and unconditionally to apologize for any and all offenses.
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