In my last post (which you can read here), I noted that the five hardest words to hear are often “Honey, we need to talk.” If those are the hardest words to hear, then the five hardest words to say might well be “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” especially if you are having to say them to your spouse. Those words are tough to swallow for several reasons.
In asking for forgiveness, you acknowledge that you’ve hurt your spouse in some way. Whether it was something minor that you did unintentionally or something major stemming from a really, really bad choice, you know you’ve caused pain to the one you love. When that happens, it normally causes you pain too, as you experience feelings of guilt, or anxiety, or depression. These are normal reactions, but unpleasant nonetheless.
Recognition that you hurt your spouse often leads to fear. Depending on the severity of the offense, you might fear that you won’t be forgiven. Or, you might fear that things will never again be like they were prior to the conflict. And sadly, fear of fear can cause a variety of reactions that can make the situation even worse. Fear of fear can cause a person to not accept responsibility and even deny that he/she did anything wrong (“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”). It can cause you to cast blame on your spouse (“I would never have done this if you hadn’t _______ first.”), or lead you toward a victim mentality (“This wouldn’t have happened if everyone wasn’t against me.”), or create a misdirected sense of pride and self-importance (“Your overreaction to this is not my problem.”). But where there is no accountability, there can be no reconciliation or healing of the relationship.
So, what’s the answer when you know you have to say the five hardest words?
- First, as soon as you realize your spouse has been hurt by something you said or did, say “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” immediately. Delaying only allows resentment to build up.
- Second, don’t make excuses. Regardless of whether or not you believe your spouse overreacted, or whether or not you felt justified in what you did that hurt your mate, say “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” And don’t go into long rationalizing explanations. “If you knew the day I’ve had, then I think you would be able to understand why I snapped at you.” Just say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
- Third, don’t apologize for your mate. “I'm sorry for your part in this misunderstanding too.” Just say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
Remember, a healthy, godly relationship demands accountability. Depending on the level of the infraction, an apology isn’t an immediate restoration of trust. But if it is said sincerely, from honest sorrow and remorse, and from a desire to protect and elevate the marriage, then it is the first step toward a place where healing and reconciliation can begin. For a whole variety of reasons, the hardest words to say are “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” but they are also the most liberating words in a good marriage.
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