How to Recover From a Big Mistake In Your Marriage

What To Do When You’ve Made a Mistake In Your Marriage

A few of the most important elements in a healthy marriage are the foundation of trust and the ability of both partners to forgive. Why are both so critical? Well, you and I BOTH know that everyone makes mistakes… sometimes BIG ones. A relationship’s ability to bounce back from these tough situations depends on cooperation from both sides, as well as acknowledgment, ownership, an apology, repairing feelings, time, and more.

Table of Contents
  1. What To Do When You’ve Made a Mistake In Your Marriage
  2. How To Know You’ve Made a Mistake in Your Marriage
    1. The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
  3. 6 Steps to Restoring Broken Trust in Your Marriage
  4. 4 Steps to Free Your Spouse From Their Mistake
  5. Conclusion

There’s a song by Taylor Swift {stick with me here} called Happiness. This song is actually quite sad despite the title, but there’s one line she wrote in the bridge that kept coming to mind in light of this topic:

No one teaches you what to do
When a good man hurts you
And you hurt him too.

Every person and couple to ever walk this earth will make mistakes. I’m sure we can all agree on this, right? In fact, every person and couple will make BOTH unintentional AND intentional slip-ups. {It’s just a liiiitle harder for us to talk about that second option, isn’t it?}

Maybe American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has a point! What if we weren’t taught what to do with the mistakes, hurt, or broken trust in our lives? What if we are not equipped with knowing how to fix a broken relationship or how to empower our spouses in their comeback when they’ve messed up?

The truth is, mistakes in marriage are extremely difficult no matter what side of the equation you’re on. And if the scenario of mistakes in marriage occurs as frequently as we say it does, we need to be talking about it more!

How To Know You’ve Made a Mistake in Your Marriage

First of all, it’s critical to point out that the word “mistake” in a relationship as intimate as marriage can mean something different for each partner. We should each make an effort to get curious about our spouse’s perspective on this. Ideally, we’d want to know BEFORE a mistake happens, but if you’re already in the thick of navigating a fault, it’s okay to ask them now, too! Curiosity is a big step in healing.

The best tips to follow when your spouse has messed up | The Dating Divas
Couples need to be better equipped to know how to restore a broken relationship

If we sat around in a circle like school kids and were asked to recall a moment when we let someone down or made a big mistake, I’m sure a memory would nudge its way into our thoughts pretty quickly. Those nudges are the telling sign of a mistake made. Guilt is designed to be the little alert your body sends you when you’ve crossed over an internal moral boundary. But, the tight, choking grip of shame keeping us from sleep is what can actually hinder a comeback from the mistake.

Have you ever laid awake at night remembering an embarrassing moment? Or even escaped sleep to wrestle with something you’ve done wrong in the far-away past? Seeing our imperfect selves in the mind’s mirror without any excuses or niceties to smooth the rough edges can be some of the most brutal moments. Shame has a way of grasping our thoughts with a tight grip, making it hard to move on.

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Very Well Mind provides a few great examples for deciphering guilt vs. shame:

  • Guilt is a feeling you get when you did something wrong or perceived you did something wrong.”
  • Shame is a feeling that your whole self is wrong, and it may not be related to a specific behavior or event.”

This article goes on to point out that guilt is productive while shame is the opposite:

When you feel guilty about the wrong thing you did, you can take steps to make up for it and put it behind you. But feeling shame, or being convinced that you are the thing that’s wrong, offers no clear-cut way to “come back” to feeling more positive about yourself.

If you or your spouse struggle with shameful thoughts, check out this article on learning better positive self-talk. Countless research has proven that shame is actually a terrible motivator for changed behavior and can actually push people into worse habits to numb the never-ending feeling of failure. Let’s help ourselves succeed by being sensitive to the nudge of guilt and rejecting the feeling of shame.

6 Steps to Restoring Broken Trust in Your Marriage

If you and your spouse are willing and able to continue this cycle of growth and restoration in your marriage despite the mistakes you each WILL make along the way, here are the steps you should take after a mess-up:

  1. Acknowledge what happened with full, specific transparency.
    Get real with your spouse if there are any details they need to know before you begin repair attempts. Complete honesty sets the framework for restoration.
  2. Take ownership of the situation beyond simple acknowledgment.
    In order to rebuild trust, full transparency AND ownership of the mistake must be present. Ownership is more personal than acknowledgment.
  3. Apologize the RIGHT way in words and attitude.
    Yes, there are wrong ways to apologize. Example: “I’m so sorry I raised my voice at you, but you triggered me!” A true apology assigns blame to ourselves only. 
  4. Make repair attempts using your spouse’s love language. 
    The Gottman Institute has a great example of what repair attempts are and how to tailor them to your spouse in this short article. Repair attempts can make or break you!
  5. Fix the wrongful behavior or mistake and move into forgiveness.
    Putting action alongside your repair attempts and your apology makes way for healing. Forgiveness can now be given from your spouse and from yourself.
  6. Remember that time does NOT heal.
    What you DO with the time can, though. You and your spouse’s actions from here must be intentional, while trust is fragile. Actions speak louder than words.
Strengthening marriages means lots of chances for a comeback story | The Dating Divas
Turning toward a spouse when there is broken trust can save a marriage

4 Steps to Free Your Spouse From Their Mistake

Or shall we say… the 4 most common mistakes YOU could make after your spouse has messed up. Ember Relationship Psychology says if you want to learn how to fix a broken relationship or repair love after a mess-up, these are the 4 habits you want to avoid:

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking.
    When a relationship is unhappy {or a big mistake has been made}, the more our choices and options appear to be “either-or.” Do your best to stay objective!
  2. Overgeneralization.
    When you see something your partner did, as “always being true” and often use words like “never,” “always,” “all,” “every,” and “none.” This can create shame.
  3. Personalization.
    When your partner does something negative, and you ascribe meaning to this about you. Example: “they did that because they don’t care about me.”
  4. Tunnel Vision.
    You only see information that fits with how you already think and feel.
    Check out this article on rose-colored glasses if you relate to this point!

When an obvious error has been made on our partner’s side of the relationship, it is SO easy for the innocent party to sit back, point a finger, and ultimately grow embittered. While it is important for us to respect our marriages by holding each other accountable when broken trust occurs, or mistakes are made, it is also key that we have the ability to look ourselves in the mirror too. Have you ever participated in the 4 points mentioned above? I know I have.

Though actions and mistakes do have rightful consequences, I want to challenge us to make sure that we do not use a mistake on our spouse’s part to justify participating in harmful behavior on our end. This will only create more suffering and difficulty within a relationship. If we truly desire the broken trust to be restored, we’ve got to give our spouse a chance where one is deserved.

Big mistakes are bound to happen, so we must get good at re-building trust | The Dating Divas
Couples reel from big mistakes if ownership and restoration are not present

Please note: If you are dealing with recurring issues in your marriage like addiction, affairs, etc., this advice may not be best suited for the complexity of your situation. Please always seek personalized advice from a licensed professional in the event of these circumstances.


Learning to trust again after a big mistake depends on a lot of different variables. Every spouse, every mistake, and every opportunity for repair is all different. Even as you read and research, be sure to ask your spouse questions too. After all, they are the ones who can {hopefully} truly tell you what they need as you expand your story beyond this mistake. Asking questions and getting curious with your spouse may actually be the most important step to healing broken trust when you’ve messed up.

Curiosity breeds transparency. Transparency makes way for trust.

Trust blossoms into the beautiful, intimate, and firm foundation we each crave in our marriages. And this process is truly never-ending. There is no dream destination—only learning and growing forever. Hence the “commitment” part of our marriage vows. {Wink!}

Easier said than done, right? Real-life is always a liiiitle more complicated. Trust us, we totally get that. But it is also evident that making an effort in the little moments here can be SO dang worth it in the long run.

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I am a 5'2" girl living in my 6'2" husband's world and loving EVERY second of it! I am the proud dog mom to our beautiful Corgi Australian Shepherd mix, Kobe. (Lovingly named by my hubs after his favorite LA Lakers Basketball legend Kobe Bryant.) I am an Enneagram 3 with equal wings 2 and 4 who dreams to be the vibrant intersection where right brain meets the left. I am an introverted extrovert...or was it extroverted introvert?! I live for good music, challenging books, ALL forms of the glorious and ever-versatile potato, any DIY project that requires a big-girl power tool, binge marathons of The Office, every home renovation show that exists on a streaming service, and moments in time that are filled by nothing but loud, lawless laughter.

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