It has taken many more years than I like to admit that I really did not know the best way to apologize to another person so that there was healing between us.
For most of my life, I was taught that to apologize to another person was to say, “I am sorry!” and then the other person would respond, “It’s okay! Forget it!” and we got back to living and growing in our relationship. It seemed like this worked for the most part. Most of my apologies were with school chums and siblings.
This is the type of apologizing that I took into my marriage. For several years, this style of apology kept us together and communicating. However, there was a cooling in our responses of “It’s okay! Forget it!” The words were said, but there were on occasions a note of curtness and tension. The knot in my stomach did not undo as it usually did. Looking back, I see that we were starting to keep score. We were not forgiving with our apologizing. That is dangerous to any relationship. It snuck up on us. We were unconsciously lying to ourselves and each other that we would “Forget it!” Sometimes the anger that was building carried over to the next day. It says in scripture,
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:25-27)
We were letting conflict become a part of our lives, unconsciously. We did not try to quickly apologize anymore and often held the hurt. This tension was slowly destroying what we had hoped on our wedding day, that is, to live and grow deeper in love over the years. Our pride kept us from nailing down the issue that started the deception of “Forget it!” We were not forgetting it at all. Sometimes we apologized too quickly just to get passed the tension in the moment.
Some married friends shared with us what they had learned at a marriage retreat about apologizing and forgiveness. We thought that we had put up a good front but our friends could see and recognize trouble and these friends loved us enough to share their good news.
They explained to us that saying the words “I am sorry!” and “It’s okay! Forget it!” are not helpful words to restore a relationship. These words are touching only the surface and not truthful that we will forget about it. The words that are needed are to be spoken from the heart, after time spent in prayer. God wants to be involved in our marriages and we are to seek His advice and counsel when we hit walls of anger and unforgiveness. The apology is to be sincere and indicate that there is regret. There should be no accompanying rationalization or justification for the offending action/words. The word “But” is not in the dialogue of apologizing! Compassion and empathy are needed for each other. These friends explained that the words that are needed are meant to begin healing and restoration. Those spoken words are “Please forgive me! I was wrong! I am sorry! I will not do that offence again!” The required response is to be equally deep and heart felt, “Yes, I forgive you! Thank you that you are committed to not repeating that offence again!“
Take time, maybe several days or weeks, to rebuild your relationship and perhaps then dialogue regarding the offence and learn from each other how to be “lovers” rather than declaring the rightness of your stance. Perhaps writing a love letter to each other about the incident would help to begin the dialogue, and then to gently sensitively listen to each other, without correcting the other person as they share their experience of the incident. Approach the dialogue with an open attitude of “I am teachable!” and ask God to help you to see and hear the other with His eyes and ears.
There is no such thing as a “perfect apology” but there is such a thing as a heart of love and compassion that comes after sitting with the Creator of love and compassion.
Copyrighted © 2012 Gloria Winn, all rights reserved.