The Art of Apology

In working with couples one complaint I often hear from the husband is: “My wife keeps bringing up the same issues when we’re arguing. It’s as if she can’t forgive and forget and I’m tired of hearing the same complaints and stories of what I’ve done wrong.”

I refer to this condition as a trip down memory lane. Why can’t most women move on and put an offense to rest? I explain to the husband that his wife wants her feelings to be validated by him indicating he truly understands his responsibility in the hurt and how much she is hurt. Until she is reassured he “gets it’ she will bring it up in every argument.

I also address the fact that even forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. The offense will be remembered but just not remembered against the spouse any longer. It’s an opportunity to let it go. There is a temptation to attempt to ask forgiveness with caveats:

  • “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”
  • “I’m sorry i hurt you, but if you only…”
  • “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I’m not myself lately.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re hurt, but I hope you get over it soon.”   

What does a good apology sound like? Here are some steps to making an apology that will enable the person who is offended to be able to begin to forgive and move on:

  1. This is what I did _______________________________.
  2. This is probably how it made you feel ________________.
  3. This is how it affected our relationship _______________.
  4. I was wrong.
  5. Will you forgive me?

The responsibility for asking forgiveness lies with the offender. Then it is the obligation of the offended to choose to forgive. The deeper the offense the longer it may take for the one who has been hurt to process forgiveness. However there comes a time when it is unhealthy for the offended person to continue to hang on to un-forgiveness. The result can be bitterness, rage, bad health, and resentment. But when someone chooses to forgive there is freedom, peace and restoration within one’s self.

Forgiveness is a process that begins with recognizing an offense has been committed. Then, it is imperative to begin the journey toward releasing the hurt and ultimately the offender. One aspect of the healing process between couples is taking a look at offenses committed and addressing them in the counseling sessions. When the path of forgiveness is chosen, the result is a healthier relationship.

Sandra B. Stanford, MS