• Dr. Bill Walker

Want a Stronger & Healthier Marriage? Learn the Best Way to Apologize

[Improving Your Marriage]

Be careful about overlooking the little things in your marriage. The way we apologize to our spouses can become a little thing to us.

But, the marriage research shows how we apologize can make a big difference in the success or failure of a marriage!

The Problem of Not Apologizing

To offend our spouse is to cause emotional hurt to them. A caring spouse should never want to cause hurt to their spouse – NEVER. Why – because hurt is the opposite of love.

We are to love our mates with a sacrificial love, called agape love.

Causing hurt is Not an expression of sacrificial love - it is an expression of our love for self and the selfishness that goes with it. Hurt causes our spouse to close up and withdraw from us – both physically and emotionally.

The result is thousands of marriages today consist of partners who are physically and emotionally closed off to their spouses because of unapologized-for hurts and offenses. Worse, over time these hurts can accumulate to the point they make a happy marriage near impossible.

Here is the problem:

When you apologize for an action you are proclaiming to your spouse that you regret doing what you did and feel remorse for it. What does it mean, then, if you do NOT apologize for a hurtful action? A logical conclusion is that you do NOT feel regret and remorse!

The Scientific Benefits of Apologizing

The marriage research [1] has found the following benefits to apologizing:

* It validates the feelings of the hurt party

* It promotes forgiveness

* It allows both parties to move forward, putting the offense behind them

* It prevents the build-up of negative feelings towards our partner

And these benefits are not limited to just the marriage relationship. Apologizing should be a part of ALL our relationships – always.

2 Dangerous Myths To Avoid

There are 2 untruths that will keep you from being a good apologizer.

* Apologizing means I am weak

Says who? Making an apology is a sign of strength. Apologizing means you are strong enough emotionally and spiritually to admit your faults to another person.

Life is full of people who don’t feel strong enough to apologize. In marriage, the person you need to apologize to is not just anyone – it is your spouse – the person who you have vowed to love and cherish more than anyone else on this earth.

* Apologizing means I am giving in

It’s not a matter of giving in – it’s a matter of GIVING. The fact that you need to apologize means you have offended your spouse. Not apologizing is an act of stubbornness and pride. Stubbornness and pride hurt and destroy relationships – ALWAYS.

Apologizing is your act of giving UP to your spouse:

-- giving up your need to be right

-- giving up your need to be superior

-- giving up your need to be perfect

"The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to move forward is the happiest." (Unkown)

Is There a Wrong Way To Apologize?


#Apologize with the wrong motive

Someone said, “An apology given just to appease one's conscience is self-serving and better left unspoken!”

#Apologize without meaning it

Our partners can usually detect when an apology is insincere. An insincere apology is a second insult to the original offense. Don’t do it.

If you feel your motives are wrong ask yourself,

“What is keeping me from really meaning what I am apologizing for?”

Take a piece of paper and write down any reasons that come to mind. Then, begin to deal with those reasons.

#Apologize by making excuses

“I’m sorry I yelled at you but I only did so because you forgot to pick up my dry cleaning.

In other words, ‘I apologize, but you deserved for me to yell at you’. ‘I apologize, but it was your fault’. This is not an apology at all but a blaming of your partner for YOUR hurtful response!

Making excuses tries to justify and excuse your hurtful behavior and actually blames the other party. Is it really o.k. for you to yell at your spouse when they make you upset? No.

The Right Way To Apologize

In his book, The Science of Trust, [2] well-known marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman has identified 5 keys to making an effective and helpful apology.

i. Accept responsibility for your hurtful actions or words.

Acknowledge that you messed up by saying something like “I take responsibility for my actions and I’m sorry that they hurt you.”

ii. Use the words “I am sorry” and “I was wrong” when you apologize.

Your apology will more likely be heard and accepted if you use these words. Be specific about exactly what you did to hurt, humiliate, or embarrass your partner.

iii. Explain to your partner how you plan to repair the situation (if this is possible).

For example, if you said something to hurt your mother-in-law’s feelings, you might offer to apologize to her over lunch or by writing her a note.

iv. Describe why you said or did what you did without making excuses or blaming your mate or someone else.

Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements can help you avoid the blame monster.

For instance, you might say “I yelled at you because I had an awful day and need to go back to work. I very am sorry for treating you this way” rather than “You promised to have dinner ready at 6 pm and it aggravated me when you didn’t keep your promise.”

v. Ask your partner to grant you forgiveness.

Be specific about your actions and words that need to be forgiven. Be sure to do so when the setting is conducive to a private conversation and there aren’t any distractions (TV, cell phones, children in the room, etc.).


Christianly Speaking

Apologizing is an issue of humility. Apologizing is laying aside our own ego and humbling ourselves before our spouse (and God). A person’s ego may be the single greatest cause of problems in marriage. Why? Because it is from the human ego that selfishness is produced.

God is pleased when we are willing to humble ourselves.

The Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” (Ephesians 5:25). The NLT translation makes this clearer: “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.”

Giving up one’s life is the ultimate opposite of SELFisnness. Sincerely apologizing is an act of giving up the needs of our own ego for the betterment of another person. This is called self-sacrifice and humility.

James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but he gives grace to the humble”.


Apologies are an essential ingredient for a strong, healthy marriage.

Apologizing acknowledges your flaws – the things that make you human. Apologizing means you can be vulnerable with your partner rather than allowing your fear of rejection or failure to overwhelm you. [3]


[1] Fincham, F. D., Hall, J. and Beach, S. R.H. (2006), Forgiveness in Marriage: Current Status and Future Directions. Family Relations, 55: 415–427. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.callf.x-i1

[2] Gottman, John M. (2011). The science of trust: emotional attunement for couples.



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