When our children were young, they would invariably show their dark side and cause some infraction toward one another. When confronted, the perpetrator would usually just want to rattle off an “I’m sorry!” and be done with it–never actually seeking forgiveness. But we didn’t make it so easy. We wanted to be sure they understood—and verbalized—specifically what they had done. This wasn’t just for their sake, it was for the victim’s (sibling) sake as well, to aid in their ability to forgive and trust once again.
As hard as you try, there are going to be things in your marriage that you will do, fail to do, refuse to do, or have-have-it-assumed-that-you-should-have-known-what-to-do! Naturally there will be things you ought to say or should have left unsaid. Your tone of voice may misrepresent your heart. Your eagerness may be mistaken for selfishness. Your focus may be perceived as self-centeredness.
There isn’t a married person alive who can’t dredge up a remembrance of hurt brought to their spouse in one of those scenarios. And those are just the daily issues. Some hurts are much, much deeper. The criticizing in front of friends and family. Disrespect and dishonor displayed in front of the children. Or pain at its worst: betrayal. Your spouse needs to hear you apologize—specifically. This isn’t an exercise in beating yourself up before they have the opportunity to do so—it’s humbly presenting yourself to them as one who recognizes the wrong you’ve done and the hurt that was caused. Intentionally or unintentionally, real or perceived, you need to make it right.
So first, try to put yourself in your spouses’ skin and think about what they felt, how the situation may have looked to them. What behavior, attitude, words, tone of voice, etc. did you do (again, specifically) that created pain? If you are a Christ-follower, ask God to reveal to you any way you may have sinned against your spouse. You can be assured that the Spirit of truth will reveal your transgressions gently and thoroughly.
Now go to your spouse when they are ready to listen, look in their eyes and ask forgiveness for each thing that you did. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t pass the blame. Just own it.
Just because you are ready to apologize doesn’t mean that they are ready to hear from you. Be sensitive to your spouse’s readiness. Asking forgiveness is not so that you can be “off the hook” for what you did, it is so the relationship can be healed and reconciled. If they won’t listen, then perhaps write it down in a note and give it to them to read when they are ready. Even so, be prepared to verbalize what you have written. Some deep pain will probably need ongoing conversation and perhaps even counseling. Your humility in your apology must also include ongoing humility in rebuilding trust, willing conversation, and doing whatever it takes to Build Your Marriage.