When I was a girl, I dreamed about marriage – like most other little girls. When I was ten, my friends lost me at the beach. When they found me, I had floated down the beach completely immersed in a daydream about my Hawaiian honeymoon. How fun it was going to be cuddling, vacationing, kissing, and other stuff. ~smile~ I simply could not wait.
Twelve years after my potentially hazardous floating daydream, I tied the knot in my home church surrounded by family and friends. The fun was just about to begin! It was the time in my life I had anxiously awaited for years. Here we go!
On our wedding night, Eric could not find his debit card (which he had that morning)… so, we spent over an hour frantically looking for it (and still couldn’t find it).
A week later, we got into an argument in our friend’s parents’ house (after they were gracious enough to host us for a week following our honeymoon).
Shortly after returning home from our honeymoon, we engaged in intense disagreements over how much time we should spend together versus how much time we should spend studying (as we were both in graduate school, in the same program).
And, I certainly cannot talk about all the fun we had without mentioning our most memorable fight in the Winnie the Pooh store, Disneyland, circa 2007.
Marriage has been fun in many ways; and, in many ways, it has been a series of offenses, apologies, and forgiveness. Few couples – especially young couples – get through life without a few entertaining fight/forgiveness stories. Like most newlyweds, we stumbled through our first few years arguing over silly issues, offering clunky apologies to each other, and then getting frustrated when the other did not find our offering “worthy.”
Thankfully, apologizing can be practiced and perfected like any other skill. The more you understand, the simpler the process becomes.
- First, analyze why you are apologizing. “A stiff apology is a second insult…. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt” (G. K. Chesterton). If your apology is for your good rather than the offended party’s good, it is incomplete and perhaps selfish. Authentic apologies seek to heal the heart and reconnect the relationship. They require humility and sacrifice.
- Learn the most effective way to apologize. At first, it was hard for me to grasp the fact that my apology language did not work for Eric. When someone looks me in the eyes and says, “I’m sorry,” my heart is almost always satisfied. Flippant mentions of “I’m sorry” are not received well, but when someone shows sincere regret, I feel a weight fall off my chest. Eric, on the other hand, does not receive apology by a simple and sincere show of regret. Eric does not feel as though someone has apologized unless they offer to make restitution. He aligns with the following quote by Bryan David: “Sacrifice is at the heart of repentance. Without deeds, your apology is worthless.” Making restitution is easier in some cases than others. If I break your lamp, I can replace it. However, if I disrespect you verbally in front of fifty people, I cannot go back in time and undo the unfortunate event. What I can do is make a public apology and show my sincerest desire to refrain from such a mistake in the future. Either way, Eric does not feel I have apologized if I only say, “I’m sorry.” He needs to know what I am going to do, or change in the future, to make the apology meaningful.
- Get comfortable with authentically apologizing. For some, this is a no-brainer. For others, apologizing feels unnatural, and sometimes even unnecessary. I am what you would call a serial apologizer. I apologize even when there is no need to apologize. Because I am a serial apologizer, my attempts to show contrition are not always taken seriously since I belt out a “Sorry!” when someone else even bumps into me! ~smile~ Eric is the opposite (shocking, I know…). Even if Eric regrets his actions, it does not often occur to him to verbalize it. On one occasion, a month after the infraction, I approached Eric desperate for some expression of regret. Much to my surprise he was sorry, but it did not cross his mind to tell me. As a serial apologizer, I still struggle to wrap my mind around that. ~smile~ But, I know he is not alone. Whether you are like me and find seven reasons to apologize before leaving the house in the morning, or like Eric and do not always verbalize your regrets, start offering authentic apologies to each other. It will take practice and maybe even a perspective shift, but the results are worth the effort! Even though they will not be perfect every time, get used to verbalizing your regrets and outwardly showing contrition. A random “Sorry!” is about as effective as silence. And, always remember the fastest way to wreck an apology is by offering excuses.
- Find something for which you can apologize. In almost every conflict, we can find some reason to apologize. Even when we believe our partner is completely to blame, if we look hard enough, there is usually something we contributed to the issue at hand – disrespectful body language, ignoring a request, or overdramatizing the event. Being willing to humble yourself for your part – even if most of the blame is not yours – makes the reconciliation process easier.
- Combat the pride which makes apologizing difficult. It is amazing – AMAZING – how much power is in the tongue (cf. Proverbs 18:21). Recently, I was wrestling with a belief my head knew to be accurate but my heart struggled to believe. Finally, I got annoyed and started telling myself the truth out loud. Within a few days, I noticed a difference in my feelings and behaviors. Whether it is a lie or the truth, if you hear something loud enough and long enough, you begin to believe it. So, start some self-reflection. What makes apologizing difficult? If you are struggling to find the answers, talk to a friend or counselor about it. Once you pinpoint the negative belief which is making it difficult to admit regret and request forgiveness, you can begin combating it with the truth. (e.g., “It is our frail, finite condition to fail at times. Showing regret is not a sign of weakness but strength.” “I do not have to be right 100% of the time. My ability to admit my mistakes makes me more worthy of respect – not less worthy.”)
- Agree to be gracious. When you believe your apology is going to be respected, it is easier to offer it. However, when you anticipate rolling eyes or sarcastic comments, it is much more difficult to express yourself. While you are both at ease and sober-minded, make a pact to receive each other’s expressions of regret graciously. Such an agreement does not mean you are expected to forgive in the same instant. It does not mean you have to cease feeling hurt and being angry. The only promise involved is that you will both show respect when hearing In addition to being gracious hearers, agree to be gracious givers – meaning if the offended party needs to be alone, or cry, or leave for a while to process emotions, the other will not put up a fight or heap guilt on him or her for not immediately reconnecting.
My childhood self is not completely disappointed with marriage. ~smile~ At times, it has certainly been a lot of fun. It has also been hard work and comforting in ways I did not expect. Marriage is full of laughter, tears, frustration, contentment, and forgiveness.
The phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” from the popular 70s movie, Love Story, has never sat quite right with me. As romantic as it sounds, it is unrealistic and just plain wrong. Rather, love means being willing to say you are sorry. It means being willing to sacrifice your pride for the good of the other. Love spurs us on to healing.
If you are normal, you will spend much of your life apologizing. ~smile~ If you are dating someone who struggles with showing regret or flat out refuses to apologize, consider that a red flag whipping in the wind. So much of marriage is fighting and forgiving. If he or she is good at fighting but not good at forgiving, keep away from (or, at least pause toward heading to) the altar. Marriage to a poor forgiver is a long and lonely road.
How can you and your significant other strengthen your apology game?