Nobody likes to be wrong. Being right feels a lot better. As children, doing the right thing usually got us approval and praise, or at least helped us avoid criticism for doing something bad. We came to equate being wrong with punishment or the withdrawal of a parent’s affections. To avoid this, we learned how to defend ourselves and justify our behavior.
We all make mistakes. An apology done well is a powerful tool that can restore a marriage.
Here are the ingredients of an effective, heartfelt apology:
- Search yourself. Before you approach your mate, take some time to consider whether you have any self-protective parts that want to minimize or defend the offense. We are all vulnerable to rationalizations, so be brutally honest with yourself. Imagine being on the receiving end of what you did and the hurt it may have caused.
- Own your stuff. Messing up doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or defective. It means you’re human. None of us like to make mistakes or 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 allow you both to move forward more quickly.
- No excuses. Acknowledging your fault, without minimizing it’s impact or excusing yourself in any way, is powerful. No “buts” or qualifiers.
- Be specific. Offering a generic “I’m sorry” is not nearly as consoling to your spouse as “I’m sorry I dismissed your input. That was unkind. I’ll make an effort to be more receptive.”
- 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.
- Make a conscious effort to change. 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.
Being willing to take responsibility for your insensitivity, impatience, anger, dismissiveness, or any other offense is a sign of maturity. In James 3:2, the Bible says, “We all stumble in many ways.” 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.
 Adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, third ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 126–33.