As husbands, as soon as our wives start to tell us anything that we think we might be in trouble for, we often start saying I’m sorry, even before hearing what we need to apologize about specifically.
I know I do this. After I start making the rapid fight-or-flight utterance, Amy has asked me, “What are you sorry for?” I stand there looking at her like a Spelling Bee contestant who just got the word he didn’t know how to spell.
(Sometimes wives do use this method of saying I’m sorry to their husbands, as well.)
Our spouse wants a meaningful apology that addresses our actions and expresses sorrowful empathy. It’s not just the action or lack-of action for which they want to hear an apology; it’s them gaining a sense we grasp how it made them feel.
So here it is–The Marriage Meeting’s proper apology tip. Of course, these helpful phrases can’t just be a formula. You have to make a sincere apology.
4 Simple Steps To Say I’m Sorry to Your Spouse
1. I am sorry for [insert action or lack of action].
It is important to acknowledge the specific action that necessitates the apology. This differentiates it from a blanketed, one-size-fits-all, generic apology. When we state the specific action (or lack of action) or something we said or should have said, our wife or husband feels heard. You are not saying, “I am a bad husband” or “I am a bad wife.” Those labels aren’t healthy. You are saying, “This specific incident hurt you or upset you, and I never want to hurt you.” (Because you already have the same team mindset from reading our other blog, correct?)
2. It was wrong because…
We need to go one layer deeper than the action itself. We need to state, “I am aware that I did emotional damage via the action and understand why that action (or lack of) wounded you emotionally.” It shows you accept responsibility and deeply regret hurting them.
Avoid any attempt to dodge blame. Accept full responsibility for your part of the issue. Don’t gaslight or say things like, “you made me” or “I had to.” You are the owner of your actions.
3. In the future, I will try to…
No one likes to get hurt repeatedly–especially hurt repeatedly in the same manner. Sharing how, to your best effort, you will act in the future when a similar situation arises helps your spouse know you have a proactive plan in your mind to avoid making the same mistake. It also allows your husband or wife to express whether that future response would meet their expectations (Question 1 in The Marriage Meeting). As the apologizer, this also makes life better for you. You can now be confident you know what to do to satisfy your spouse’s expectations in that given situation.
Avoid over-promising. You don’t want to promise something that you know is not in your power to enact or that is not in line with your own long-term expectations. Avoid the temptation to appease your spouse in this way, especially if you tend to dislike confrontation.
As an oversimplified example, if you forgot to do the dishes when it’s your turn, you shouldn’t say, “Every time I see a single dish in the sink, I’ll wash it.” That isn’t realistic or fair.
4. Will you please forgive me?
Apologizing is an initiative action only. You cannot control how your wife or husband responds. The goal is not just to be forgiven. Reconciliation needs to happen. Avoid the attempt to manipulate them into giving the response you want to hear. Allow for grace and space. Immediate forgiveness is nice, but it may take them a bit of time to be able to answer this question in the affirmative. In serious offense, rebuilding trust can take time.
If your spouse answers, “No,” ask them if they need time to process it and state that you are open to further discussion when they are ready. At times, a deeper discussion of steps 1-3 is needed, especially if this is a frequently repeated mistake. Have a conversation about unresolved issues related to the offense.
Final Thoughts on Saying I’m Sorry
We want you to have a great marriage. Offering a heartfelt apology has the immense power to allow your spouse to see into your heart. Remember, intimacy can be defined as “into-me-see.” Learning to say sorry to your wife or husband shows you see into their heart and offers a view into your own regret over hurting them. Apologizing will always provide a return on investment. We are all human and will make mistakes. Marriage is a great place to practice humility. Say sorry to your wife or husband when you offend them, but not just I’m sorry. Give them a full apology using the steps above.
Leave a comment if you have other marriage advice regarding apologizing. We’d love to hear your insights.