How to Repair Your Relationship After “I’m Sorry”

A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. But when you’ve hurt your spouse it may take a lot more than “I’m sorry” to repair your relationship. And most of that is on you.

Dr. Henry Cloud sometimes has couples say to each other, “I promise to love you, honor you, cherish you, hurt you, ….“ What? Hurt you!

Yes! You will hurt your spouse. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake, completely without intention to cause harm. Other times you cause harm through carelessness or weakness, or because you feel hurt yourself. And then there are times you know you’re doing something that will hurt your partner, but you 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 will need to do everything possible to repair your 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 between you. 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.” (You may need to check out Is My Marriage Toxic?)

When I Needed to Repair

Years ago my husband Al appreciated when I let him know when I was heading home from one of my 24-hour hospital shifts. One day he was busy and didn’t immediately respond to my text. And I wasn’t worried as I began my three-hour drive home.

Over an hour later I looked at my phone. There were at least a couple dozen missed calls and text messages from him. My phone had been on mute – and he was becoming seriously scared something had happened to me.

Of course I called him immediately. But that relatively small incident required more than a quick “I’m sorry.” He had been wounded. He was in poor health, and the thought of losing me truly terrified him. I had some repairing to do.

That certainly wasn’t the only time I had to say “I’m Sorry” to my husband. But it illustrates the point that when you discover you’ve caused your spouse pain, it’s on you to do something about it.

Here’s what that looks like.

Own your own stuff

You can only control your own behavior. Even if your spouse was in the wrong also, even if your “part” was only 5% of the problem, that’s the only part you can do something about. Don’t take on their part; 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. This might become very uncomfortable. It might highlight your own addictions (small or large), underlying sin nature, selfishness, unhealed traumas, etc.

There are times it’s not your stuff. Your spouse might be vulnerable to being hurt in certain ways because of their own traumas. But if you’ve entered into a marriage covenant with them before God, it’s vital you invest real energy in changing everywhere you possibly can in order to love well your spouse who is sensitive in that area.

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! No explaining away, or blaming your boss or friend or anyone else. If both of you need to apologize, be the bigger person and go first.

Making excuses negates any apology. You are choosing to see the pain you’ve caused your spouse, and pain doesn’t respond to logic.

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.”

And if you can’t do this, you need to get on your face before the Lord and do some serious heart work.

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 on every device you have access to. Join a group such as BeBroken, or a XXXChurch group. There are others also.
  • If you’ve harmed your spouse by not caring for your health, 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, Noom, 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, 24/7/365. And answer when they call. Always! Video chat if necessary, from anywhere. Show them every credit card receipt or statement. Agree on an outside friend who is free to 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. Pastoral care, psychologist, support group, anger management therapy, all of the above. Give your spouse permission to leave your presence temporarily if they become afraid of your anger or behavior.

Do whatever it takes. For as long as it takes!

Ongoing Repair

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. In some situations a period of separation is necessary. If so, use that time to do the ongoing work of becoming a different person. It’s also possible for your spouse 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 repairing the relationship is going through the process.

With my husband, I had to take time to listen to how worried he had become when he couldn’t reach me, and apologize. And from then on I was responsible for checking my phone when I got in the car to be certain it was not on mute. Deeper wounds would have required more to repair the relationship.

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 have you hurt your spouse? (You have, you know!) Where do you need to do some work to repair your relationship? Leave a comment below.

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Repairing Requires Communication. Can You Do That?

Whether newlywed or married for decades, communication is the key to the quality of your relationship, and your intimacy. 

Discover the blueprint to understanding each other and developing communication patterns that actually work! 

Guide to Healthy Communication in Marriage