The power of an apology to heal the upsets in a marriage, or any relationship, is profound yet often extremely difficult to give. Our egos get in the way of admitting and facing our faults or the fact that something we have done, or failed to do, has negatively impacted our spouse.
If you have kids, I bet you have taught them to say “I’m sorry” when they have taken another child’s toy or bumped into someone accidentally. In fact, I often catch myself saying I’m sorry to strangers even when I’ve done nothing wrong! Like when I’ve stepped into an entryway and someone is trying to exit. We are conditioned to be polite, especially women.
For the times when something has been done that requires a genuine apology, saying I’m sorry is not nearly enough. Yet, most of us have not learned how to sincerely apologize beyond saying “I’m sorry”. Here are some important steps to take to offer a sincere apology that is genuine and can truly help heal an upset between you and your partner.
Step 1: Acknowledge what you did to hurt the other person. For example, “I realize that I didn’t greet you when you came home from work today and I stayed on the computer for another 30 minutes.”
Step 2: Learn and Express your understanding of how your actions impacted the other person. “I can see how when I did that it made you feel like I didn’t care that you were home.”
Step 3: Offer to make amends where possible. “I will make a point of stopping what I’m doing when you come home from work from now on and get up to greet you.”
Step 4: Learn how and why you did what you did and share your understanding with your spouse. “Sometimes, what happens for me when I am focusing on the work I’m doing on the computer, I lose track of time and get so focused I don’t realize what is going on around me. That doesn’t make it right or less hurtful. It is just part of what goes on for me”.
Step 5: Make and share your plan of action to not repeat your hurtful behavior. “I will set an alarm on my phone to go off at 5:30pm when you usually arrive so that no matter what I’m doing or how focused I am, I am alerted to the time and the fact that you will be home soon.”
Step 6: Overtly apologize and ask for forgiveness. “I’m sorry for not greeting you. I do care that you are home and never want my actions to make you feel like I don’t care. Can you forgive me?”
Step 7: Follow through on what you outlined to make up for the hurt and the plan in place to help you behave differently in the future.
These steps are not easy and require practice! It requires empathy and really understanding how the other person felt even if you don’t agree or would not feel the same if the roles were reversed.
Practice this kind of apology and you will get better at it. And your marriage could get better for it.