How Sorry Are You, Really?

Growthtrac Marriagec Medic

Q

My husband hurts my feelings over and over again, and always says he’s sorry. I tell him that if he were really sorry, he wouldn’t keep hurting my feelings. He then throws it back at me that he can never do enough to please me. I feel like I’m living in a crazy world. Please help.

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A

When we’re wronged, it’s natural to want a sincere apology. But it’s often difficult to know if the person who wronged us is sincerely sorry. And it’s easy to be so caught up in our emotional pain that we may not effectively receive an apology. However, you offer a few clues as to what may be going wrong in your situation.

You say your husband hurts your feelings over and over. If your husband were truly sorry and accepted full responsibility for wronging you, he would change his behavior. Scripture tells us godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance means turning away from an action.

I particularly appreciate this Scripture because it deals with the heart. “Godly sorrow” means our conscience is pricked. We recognize we’ve sinned; we realize we violated God and the person we’ve wronged, and we want to make things right. If we don’t feel sorry, chances are we won’t change our behavior.

Additionally, you say your husband “throws it back” at you—accusing you of never being able to do enough to please you. This action is called “reverse blame,” “blame-shifting,” or “victimizing the victim.” It’s critical you hold him accountable for his actions by refusing to accept his blame-shift and fighting the temptation to feel shame for your actions. This “reverse blame” behavior is actually a form of abuse and can be horrifically damaging in a relationship, eroding trust, good will, and safety.

Sadly, your husband is not alone in his fumbling attempts to apologize. Many fail at offering a sincere, meaningful apology that heals the wounds of the one offended. Here are a few additional thoughts about effective apologies in marriage:

Own up to what you’ve done. No one wants to hear “the back story,” or reasons why you’ve done what you’ve done. The offending person should step up and say straight out, “I did it. It was me, and I’m responsible for my actions.”

Own up to why your action was wrong. This is an opportunity to talk about “the ripple effect” of wrongful actions, and how the actions impact the wounded partner. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge any pattern your current behavior may have to past behaviors.

Offer a statement of sorrow. The wounded partner needs to hear those magical words, “I’m sorry.” Your statement of sorrow must be sincere, as feigning sorrow can be recognized immediately. A statement of sorrow offers a soothing balm to the wounded partner; the absence of this makes healing very difficult.

Offer a plan for change. After you own the impact of your wrong and you offer an apology, it’s important you also offer a plan for change. This helps your partner regain a sense of trust in you and in your relationship.

Offer a plan to make it up to the wounded person. Offering appropriate amends rounds out the apology. When we wound someone, we actually take something away from them. We “dip into their emotional bucket,” and something must be replaced. You may not be able to replace exactly what you took, but you can consider your spouse’s love language and do something meaningful to show that you’re truly sorry for your hurtful actions.

In summary, we all make mistakes and need to offer apologies from time to time. Knowing exactly how to apologize and to make amends keeps a relationship solid and stable. Apologies also keep us honest and thoughtful about the impact our actions have on others. How well do you offer sincere, heartfelt, behavior-changing apologies?

I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome your reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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