There’s a saying that says “love means never having to say sorry.” That philosophy certainly isn’t based on conventional wisdom. It’s a fact that there will be times you will hurt your spouse’s feelings and your spouse is bound to hurt yours.
Does loving your spouse mean you shouldn’t apologize for doing something hurtful? Perhaps because you love someone you should especially make sure you say sorry. Saying sorry shows that you care how your actions affect your spouse.
Knowing how to say you are sorry is a different story. Some people just don’t know what to do or how to say it. For people who aren’t used to apologizing, it can feel uncomfortable. But, apologizing to your spouse when you’re wrong can go a long way to preserving the relationship. Whether you meant to hurt your spouse’s feelings or not, saying that you are sorry is an important tool that should be part of every marriage.
The Defensive Apology
There are certainly apologies that aren’t helpful. For example, saying, “I’m sorry that your feelings got hurt,” isn’t likely to be a heartfelt apology. Apologies like these are often used as an attempt to avoid taking any responsibility for doing something wrong. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for what I did,” it means, “I’m sorry that you are so sensitive.”
Other examples of defensive apologies include saying things like, “I’m sorry you can’t handle things well,” or “I’m sorry that I have to work a lot to make money for us.” Although they include the words, “I’m sorry,” they aren’t actually an apology.
Other Insincere Apologies
There are other insincere attempts at apologies that aren’t helpful. For example, saying, “I’m sorry that I am always the one who does everything wrong around here!” or “I know, like usual, it’s my fault and I’m sorry.” Apologizing for your existence doesn’t show sincerity about your willingness to take responsibility for your behavior.
Another way that apologies don’t work is when people use the opportunity to point out what the other person does wrong. For example, saying, “I’m sorry that we were fighting, but you said something really offensive.” Again, this isn’t a heartfelt way to take responsibility for your own behaviors.
People also try to use, “I was just being honest so sorry if the truth hurts,” as a means to justify their own behavior. Although it is true that sometimes there are things that need to be said that may hurt someone’s feelings, it shouldn’t be done casually. If you need to talk to your spouse about something serious, it’s important to use tact when you do so.
Also, apologies are sometimes used as a pre-emptive strike. For example, saying, “Sorry, but I just don’t like your mother.” If you have to say sorry first, perhaps you aren’t really sorry and should think twice about what you are about to say.
How to Apologize Sincerely
Look at the situation from your spouse’s point of view. Develop some compassion for how your spouse feels. Remember, just because it isn’t a big deal to you, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a big deal for your spouse. If you forgot your anniversary and she’s hurt, it is a big deal. Or if you said something about his mother that offended him, it’s a big deal as well.
Remind yourself that preserving the relationship is more important than being right. Don’t try to focus too much on who is right and who is wrong. Instead, focus on the solution to the problem.
When You Can’t Apologize
Sometimes when you don’t have the right words to say, writing it down can be helpful. Perhaps you’ve messed up big. Or maybe you just can’t get the words to come out of your mouth. Write a letter or a little note to your spouse that takes responsibility for your behavior, says you are sorry and how you can avoid doing this again in the future.
If you are too angry to make a sincere apology, you can explain the situation. Say, “I am just too upset to apologize right now. I’m going to go calm down.” Saying you’re sorry through clenched teeth with an angry tone isn’t going to be effective anyway. So, take some time to calm down before attempting to apologize.
Accepting an Apology
When your spouse apologizes to you, it’s important to be gracious. Focus on the fact that your spouse is trying to make things better. If you receive a heartfelt apology say, “Thank you,” and avoid criticizing your spouse’s attempts to apologize and try not to rehash the offense or offer reminders such as “Well you should be sorry!” Instead, show your spouse how you can be gracious and your spouse will be more likely to apologize again in the future.