The seven words that we tell couples every marriage needs —I was wrong. Will you forgive me? needs an update. When you are seeking forgiveness for a wrong done to your spouse, there is a better way to apologize.
Most Apologies Need One More Ingredient
Dennis and I are discovering that there is a big gap between “I was wrong” and asking “Will you forgive me?” When we hear “I’m sorry. I was wrong,” we want our spouse to identify WHAT it was that was wrong, and acknowledge WHY it hurt us.
Asking for forgiveness must begin with repentance. Simply saying “Sorry,” isn’t healthy for your marriage. As much as we teach the seven words to improve your marriage, we admit they lack substance. This apology needs the added meat of reconciliation.
Here’s the best way to seek genuine forgiveness:
I was wrong for ________. Will you forgive me for the pain I caused you?
How to Apologize When You Seek Forgiveness: 6-Steps*
- I was wrong.
- This is what I did wrong.
- And this is how I hurt you.
- This is the pain that I believe I put you through because of what I did.
Ask your spouse for feedback: Did I identify and understand the pain you went through?
Is there something else I missed that would be good for me to know?
- This is how I feel about putting you through this pain.
- It is my sincere desire, as best as I can, to change this behavior and not bring this pain into your life again.
*Credit: Nothing Hidden Ministries Tool booklet
True forgiveness goes beyond simply forgiving someone for their behavior and the wrong they did. Forgiveness involves forgiving someone for all of the hurt and pain they have caused, as well as the effects of those hurts in your life. ~Love After Marriage
To add weight to your apology, the missing ingredient is what 12-step programs call “making amends.” Amends combine the steps of forgiveness and repentance. With the expectation of seeing changed behavior, adding the step of setting goals for this to happen is crucial.
A spouse who keeps asking for forgiveness for a habitual offense needs this step to walk out the change that is expected of a repentant heart.
For example, if your spouse asks forgiveness regularly for overspending, but never talks about the steps he/she is taking to assure it won’t become a pattern, it is likely the behavior will continue. More often than not, the spouse receiving the apology will have difficulty trusting that the offending spouse will change.
Repentance is supposed to lead to change, but it is the process of amends that enables change. ~ Dave & Linda Roeder
The purpose of making amends is to hopefully mature the one who is asking forgiveness and making the changes. It also builds trust in a relationship. Making amends communicates that one is truly repentant and does not intend to continue with the same behavior.
In seeking forgiveness, follow these ground rules:
- You are not doing this to change your spouse. It is for your benefit to change yourself and to do your part to improve the relationship.
- You cannot pressure your spouse to grant forgiveness. Your responsibility is to do your part in contributing to the health of your marriage (and to yourself!).
What if your spouse doesn’t accept your apology?
- Surrender your pain and emotions into God’s care. You are not responsible for your spouse’s choice. If you’ve asked God to forgive you, He promises that when you confess your sins, He is faithful to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
- Forgive yourself. We have the hardest time forgiving ourselves, don’t we? But if Jesus says we are forgiven, then who are we to argue with His supremacy? We can’t pay for our sin by feeling guilty or condemned. He has already paid the full price for our forgiveness.
- Back your words with long-term changed behavior. Couple your apology with consistent actions and loving support. Faithfully walk out the making amends process.
Dennis and I have updated our “I was wrong” apology. The missing ingredient is to Identify and Acknowledge the part we played toward the necessity of asking for forgiveness. We identify WHAT we did wrong, and HOW we think it hurt. Then we take responsibility for our actions or words.
I was wrong for ___________. I am sorry for the pain I caused you (____list way(s)______). Will you forgive me?