Crafting Genuine Apologies & How to Say You Are Sorry
Ruth Bell Graham is known for saying, “A good marriage only exists when you have two good forgivers.” A strong marriage requires two partners who are both quick to offer apologies and quick to forgive (Rooks, 2011). Marriage is essentially about understanding, communicating, and adjusting as necessary. If you have made a mistake, identifying the error and apologizing to your spouse is ultimately what will lead you both in the right direction again.
Because we know this is difficult for many couples, we created a guide centered around how to apologize to someone you hurt. We’re sharing the importance of apologizing, things you should avoid, and a step-by-step process you can follow to craft meaningful and genuine apologies to your other half.
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Importance of Apologizing
If you ever wonder whether you should say sorry or not, the answer is always YES! Even if you truly believe you are not “in the wrong,” you can still apologize. In many situations, there is no right or wrong, but simply a difference of opinion.
Recent studies have shown that apologizing to your spouse and asking for forgiveness is an essential component of a successful marriage (Gaspard, 2017). When you apologize to your spouse, you are validating their feelings and enabling you both to move forward in your relationship.
Instead of trying to pinpoint who is in the wrong in a given circumstance, humble yourself and take responsibility for the words, actions, or inactions that have hurt your spouse. Acknowledge your flaws and be vulnerable with your spouse—it will go a long way in strengthening your marriage.
What to Avoid when Apologizing to Your Spouse
When considering how to apologize to someone you hurt, there are definitely some phrases or actions that you should try to avoid. These are all things that may only worsen the issue and lead to more pain for your partner.
- Don’t follow your apology with “but”: This only serves to make light of what was done.
- Don’t use excuses: Try not to blame what you did on anything or anyone else. As an equal partner in your marriage, take ownership and responsibility for what you have done or not done.
- Try not to say you are sorry just for the sake of apologizing: Be sincere and back your words up with actions.
- Don’t dismiss your spouse’s feelings: Whether you agree or disagree with how your spouse feels, everyone’s feelings deserve to be seen and heard.
- Don’t use statements such as: “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “If I offended you, I’m sorry,” or “I’m sorry you took it that way.” All these statements lack personal responsibility and indirectly point the blame at the other person.
8 Steps to a Meaningful Apology
So, now that you are ready to sit down and talk things over with your spouse, here are some simple steps you can follow on how to apologize. This guide will enable you to create a heartfelt and sincere apology that will help you both heal and move forward. We even included some sample phrases that you can use for each step of the process!
- Ask permission: “I would like to apologize to you—is this a good time?” You cannot always assume that your spouse is ready to hear your apology. It is never a bad idea to give them some time. They may give you permission to apologize right away, or they may need some time to cool down before they are ready to talk.
- Admit you are wrong: “I was wrong.” This may be the most important step of all! When you are thinking about how to apologize to someone, it is crucial for you to admit that you made a mistake somewhere in the process. You must accept and take ownership of your actions or inactions in order for your apology to be genuine and sincere.
- Tell your spouse how sorry you are: “I am very sorry for…” Take responsibility, and let your spouse know you are genuinely sorry for the mistake that you made. Be specific and make it very clear what you are apologizing for. Also, be sure to use “I” statements in order to take ownership of your mistakes.
- Acknowledge that you hurt them: “I understand that I hurt you when I…” Vocalize that you regret what you did and you value their feelings in this situation. It doesn’t matter if you think you are in the wrong or not. If your spouse was hurt, then their feelings are valid, and they deserve an apology.
- Make a plan to fix or change things: “What can I do to make things better?” It may not always be possible to fix a mistake, but having the intention to resolve things in the future will go a long way. If it is possible to make things right again, do everything you can to see it through. Remember…actions speak louder than words! Come up with an action plan and tell your spouse about it.
- Assure them you will not make the same mistake again: “This mistake will not happen again.” It is important for your spouse to know that you are doing everything possible to ensure this mistake will not repeat itself. This little validation that you provide to your spouse will help build trust for the future.
- Ask for forgiveness: “Will you forgive me?” Once you both have communicated with each other and settled the issue, ask your spouse for forgiveness. They may give it to you right away, or it may take some time. Either way, thank them for their forgiveness and work to move forward together.
- Forgive yourself: “I forgive myself for…” It may be challenging to forgive yourself after hurting someone you care so deeply about. But, just as your spouse will forgive you for the mistakes you made, you must also show yourself this same forgiveness. Every situation is a learning opportunity for the future, so use this time to better yourself as an individual and as a partner in marriage.
There’s no denying that it isn’t always easy to apologize for something we did, especially when it led to hurting someone we love. However, it is important for us to learn how to apologize properly so that our spouses can forgive us and begin to heal and move forward.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of the apology, don’t forget that forgiveness can be immediate, while healing may take time. If you are hoping to move forward in your relationship, forgiveness will ultimately be the first step towards healing.
Are you looking for more information on apologies in relationships? Then, check out The 5 Apology Languages written by the famous author of The 5 Love Languages. Just as we give and receive love in different ways, each one of us gives and receives apologies differently. This book will show you how to apologize to someone in ways that are meaningful to them.
Cunningham, T. (2018). Focus on the Family. “The Best Way to Properly Apologize to Your Spouse.”
Gaspard, T. (2017). Huff Post. “How Apologizing Can Improve Your Marriage.”
Marcus and Ashley (2020). Our Peaceful Family. “How to Say Sorry (Apologize) to Your Wife or Husband in 7 Steps.”
Rooks, L. (2011). Focus on the Family. “Understanding Forgiveness.”