As uncomfortable as it may be, saying “I’m sorry” for a small thing to someone you may never see again really isn’t all that hard. The stakes are much higher when you’ve hurt the one you promised to love, honor, and cherish for the rest of your life. Making things right with your spouse is more difficult, but it’s a skill you’ll need to learn if you want a long and healthy marriage.
Unless you’re ready for translation, you and I each do things that hurt those closest to us. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake, completely without intention to cause harm. Other times we cause harm through carelessness or weakness, or because we’re hurting ourselves. And then there are times we know we’re doing something that will hurt him or her, but we do it anyway.
In the end what matters is that you caused them pain. Ouch! It’s easy to get defensive and try to explain away what you did, but that only drives you farther apart. If you want your marriage to survive you need to do everything possible on your end to repair the relationship. It starts with you.
I’m going to assume that you and your spouse are people of good will, and that you want to repair what has become broken in your relationship. If you’re not sure about that, answer that question first. And then get ready to do the hard work of saying – and doing – “I’m sorry.” Here’s how:
Own your own stuff. You can only control your own behavior even if your spouse was in the wrong also. Don’t worry about them. Just be brutally honest with yourself about what you did that caused them pain. If it’s something you keep on doing, get honest about why.
Apologize without making excuses. No “if you had only,” or “I just couldn’t help it,” or “if you . . . then I won’t do that again.” No excuses whatsoever! Simply say, “I’m sorry. I did . . . , and I hurt you. Please forgive me. And here’s what I’m going to do so that I don’t hurt you this way again.”
Change your behavior. There’s nothing more important than this. Trust can be broken in a moment, and it may take forever to regain. Better to never do something that would cause your spouse to distrust you. But if you have, here are a few examples of the kinds of behavior change that MAY allow you to regain their trust:
- If you’ve struggled with pornography, get rid of any printed pornographic material. Make sure your spouse has your passwords. All of them! Install a service such as Covenant Eyes or X3Watch that will block objectionable online material, and will provide a list of everything you did online to your spouse and/or another accountability partner. Join a group such as Every Man’s Battle or a XXXChurch group.
- If you’ve harmed your spouse by not caring for your health, take some practical steps to do something about it. Quit smoking, no matter how hard it is. Commit to exercising 5 times each week, together if possible. Get a Fitbit. Join Weight Watchers, or commit together to following an eating plan such as the Mediterranean diet. Visit your doctor this week.
- If your spouse is worried about your activities when you’re not together, become transparent. Agree that they can call you any time, regardless of what you’re doing. And answer when they call. Always! Video chat if necessary, from wherever you are. Show them every credit card receipt or statement. Agree on an outside friend that can tell your spouse anything they ask, at any time, about your activities.
- If you’ve struggled with anger or domestic violence, get some help. A lot of it. For as long as it takes. Pastoral care, psychologist, support group, anger management therapy, or whatever works. Probably “all of the above.” Do the deep inner work that it takes to truly change your anger. Give your spouse complete permission to leave your presence temporarily if they become afraid of your anger or behavior.
Those are the kinds of behavior changes that may result in restoring the trust and connection between you. In short, it takes whatever it takes! And you’re responsible for doing whatever it takes.
Yes, your spouse has their responsibilities too. They make the choice about whether to accept your apology and behavior change and forgive you, or not. It’s also possible for them to forgive you, but not yet (or ever) be able to trust you. And that’s not something you can control.
But whatever happens, the only chance you have of restoring the relationship is going through the process.
On a relatively small scale I had to do this with my husband recently. He had tried repeatedly to contact me while I was driving home from out of town. He became more and more anxious as time went by. Some time later I looked at my phone and saw his calls, text messages, and voice mails that I had not answered. I had unintentionally left my phone on “mute” and wasn’t aware of his calls.
But that still hurt him. I had to take time to listen to how worried he had become, and apologize. And from now on I’m responsible for checking my phone when I get in the car to be certain it’s not on “mute.”
Learn how to repair things when you’ve hurt your spouse. It will become one of the most precious parts of your relationship.
Your Turn: How well do you think you apologize when you’ve hurt your spouse? How well do you think your spouse would say you do? Leave a comment below.
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