I’m really frustrated. When my wife apologizes for her actions, she always says, “I’m sorry for such and such, but you did such and such.” She makes excuses for her actions and almost never simply sticks with apologizing for her actions without also attacking me. I rarely sense she’s really sorry. What can I do to get a more sincere apology?
I appreciate your concern about the lack of a sincere apology. I often cringe as I listen to people apologize, hearing their insincerity, blame-shifting, and excuse making. I commonly hear many of the following phrases:
- “I’m sorry IF what I did hurt you.”
- “That certainly wasn’t my intent.”
- “I didn’t mean to do it.”
- “You were the one to start things.”
- “You’re being too sensitive.”
- “Yes, I did it, but . . . ”
A heartfelt apology is more than well-crafted words; it is medicine to the soul. Scripture tells us, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7: 10). Godly sorrow leads to repentance – a turning away from worldly behavior and thoughts. It begins with heart change and follows with behavior change.
On the other hand, an excuse-laden apology brings little true relief or lasting change. Worldly sorrow is filled with excuses and rationalizations; it’s self-protective, pride-filled, and offers the offended party very little. The pride-filled heart keeps score and ensures the ledger be even. It says, I want to ensure you take responsibility for your stuff if I have to take responsibility for mine. However, a humble heart – grounded and confident – knows it only needs to keep its side of the street clean and let others worry about themselves.
All of this is easy to say and so very hard to do. Here are a few additional guidelines to discuss with your wife and for all of us to practice as we weave sincere, humble apologies into our relationships.
Examine your heart. You will not truly change unless you experience heart change. You must feel sorry for what you’ve done. Look in the mirror and acknowledge that what you’ve done wounded the heart of God in addition to the other person.
Feel your remorse. Allow yourself to sit with the true guilt of having violated your integrity. You’ve acted in a way that defies whom you are striving to be. Feel the sadness that comes from this violation. While you need not wallow in this pain, feeling it will allow you to want better for yourself and others.
Offer a sincere apology. Share your sadness and your regret for your actions and the pain it has caused your spouse. Allow your tone and body posture to reflect genuine sorrow for your actions alone. Don’t shift the focus on the other’s behavior. Your apology should be done when you, and you alone, feel sorry for what you have done.
Take full responsibility for your actions. Consider the ramifications of what you have done. Reflect on what you said or did that caused injury to the other. Focus narrowly on that behavior. Reflect on the ripple effect of your actions. Ask for feedback from the offended party to see if your words are hitting the target.
Offer restitution. Consider how you might make amends to the wounded person. Sometimes a word of apology is enough. Sometimes, you need to assure the person that you understand the full impact of your behavior on him/her. Reassure the wounded person that he/she can expect very different behavior from you in the future and you are prepared to be held accountable for change.
Sadly, sincere apologies are often missing in many of our relationships. A heartfelt apology, combined with a behavior change, can absolutely turn a troubled relationship into a vibrant one – and keep a healthy one healthy.