Why is it that some apologies have a way of soothing a conflict and helping us reconnect, while others leave us feeling empty and distanced from our spouses?

When I’d just washed the floor and Gary came tromping in with his muddy shoes, I expressed my frustration. When he said, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” it seemed insincere!

When I forgot to pick up Gary’s shirts (…again) and he was heading on a business trip, he expressed his disappointment. My response, “I’m sorry. I had a lot on my plate today,” didn’t soothe his frustration either.

So often our apologies are couched in some kind of excuse or blame-shifting. We don’t want to take full responsibility or look like the bad guy, so we respond in a way that dismisses our spouse’s complaint and minimizes our accountability.

In James 3:2, the Bible says, “We all stumble in many ways.” The truth is we all make mistakes. We are all prone to do things that hurt or frustrate our mate. When we do, a sincere apology is the most effective way to repair a break in your relationship and restore connection. It is also one of the most difficult things to do.

So what are the ingredients to an effective, heart-felt apology?

  1. Acknowledge mistakes. Messing up doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or defective. It means you’re human. None of us like to disappoint our mate but the reality is we will — and we will survive it, as will they. Owning your part can allow your mate to see their part more readily and move forward more quickly.
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  3. Admit without excuses. Acknowledging your fault, without minimizing it’s impact or excusing yourself in any way, is powerful. Be specific.
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  5. Accept the consequences. If the mistake or offense causes your mate to withdraw for a time, allow that time without demanding he/she instantly forgive. If the offense is big, and has wounded a core part of your mate, let them know you understand their need for time and you will be patient. Check in with them and find out if they need anything from you to soothe the hurt.
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  7. Alter your behavior. Changing how you treat your mate is evidence that you have taken seriously your offense and sincerely desire to love them better. Altering behavior is a sign that your heart has been engaged in the apology. [1]

Learning to embrace our responsibility and own our own missteps takes humility and maturity and is the most effective way to reconnect and restore healthy relating.

Why do you think apologizing is hard? How do you feel when your mate offers you a sincere apology?

[1] Adapted from Peacemakers by Ken Sande