In the early years of our marriage, we were awful at owning our mistakes. Our pride didn’t allow us to admit that we were imperfect and messy, so we spent a lot of time blaming everything else, especially each other. We fought about the same things over and over again. A dark cloud hung over us and, although we were praying for a great marriage, we weren’t doing anything about it.
Marriage is where our theology gets put into practice. We can fool others, but we can’t fool our spouses. If you are praying for a great marriage but doing nothing about it, don’t expect Holy Spirit magic dust to descend from heaven. We had hard work to do, and it all started with learning how to apologize properly to each other. Everything changed after that.
We make mistakes all the time, and we need a way to build love and trust back into the relationship, a way to validate each other’s feelings, to own our mistakes and get back on track, to walk in humility, and to show each other grace. A four-step apology helped us get there! Let’s walk through what a proper apology looks like. We are going to give you the example of Casey being distracted by technology during family time and Meygan calling him out on it… the struggle is real in our house!
4 Steps to a Proper Apology
STEP 1: I’M SORRY FOR [ACTION + FEELING].
Casey: “I’m sorry for being distracted and not having better boundaries with my phone. I know that makes you feel ignored and disrespected.”
This first statement identifies Casey’s action, and he takes ownership and responsibility. It also recognizes how the action makes Meygan feel. While Casey didn’t intentionally set out to ignore Meygan, validating how she felt gives Casey a chance to communicate that he understands that his actions have consequences. For most of us, unintended consequences keep us from apologizing because we feel like we didn’t do anything wrong. And of course, there is a period at the end of a proper apology because the minute you say, “I’m sorry … but …” you just wiped away the entire apology.
STEP 2: I WAS WRONG!
Casey: “I was wrong for making you feel ignored. That’s on me.”
Three simple words but so hard to say if you struggle with pride like we do. This is taking full ownership for the FEELING you evoked in your spouse. You’re owning your mistake. You’re taking responsibility for hurting your spouse, even if it was unintentional (which it usually is).
STEP 3: WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE THIS BETTER?
Casey: “What can I do to make this better?”
Meygan: “I would really appreciate it if you would put your phone on silent or leave it in the other room during family time. Let’s say that from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. we both turn our phones on airplane mode and be present with the kids. Do you think that’s reasonable?”
If you’re that couple who argues about the same thing over and over again and there is no change, this will become your favorite part of the apology. This is where you get to work together as a team to brainstorm ideas on how to make things better. This is an opportunity to try something new and then check in with each other in a week to see how things went. Make sure the request is realistic and very specific so there is no room for guessing. Keep in mind that sometimes there isn’t anything you can do and just a sincere apology is all that is needed.
STEP 4: WILL YOU FORGIVE ME?
Casey: “Will you forgive me, Babe?”
In this step, you’re asking for your spouse to let you off the hook for the pain you caused and to truly get back on the same course together. Whether the hurt was small or big, you want to make sure your spouse knows that you are apologetic and want his or her forgiveness on the matter. In the moments we struggle with letting the pain go, we remind ourselves of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us and remember that we ourselves continue to make mistakes and He forgives us. Now here’s the tricky part with forgiveness. A lot of people say, “I forgive you” when they really don’t—and resentment builds. If you’re not ready or need some time to talk to Jesus about your frustrations and hurt, be sure to communicate that to your spouse. It’s okay to say, “I want to forgive you but I need a couple of days.”
Another great part about learning how to apologize the right way is that you can teach your children how to own their mistakes and repair relationships. We have our kids walk through these four steps, and it’s incredible to watch them actually live out how to build each other up in love.