Have you tried to apologize, but your spouse won’t accept it?
Has your spouse apologized, and you don’t believe he/she is sincere?
You are not alone.
What happens when an apology is not offered, appropriate or accepted? Whatever the root of the offense, it sits in the middle of your marriage keeping you from harmony. A wall starts to form, built with blocks from every unreconciled past offense. A pattern of language forms and becomes part of your marriage dance.
When you consider that God calls you to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), this wall is not only separating you from each other, but it is sin separating you from God.
“It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:2).
An apology is required when we have wronged someone. When we wrong our spouses, it’s sin even though you might not find the wrong listed specifically in a sin list in the Bible. You might just have been late to an event that held a high meaning for your husband/wife.
Maybe you had a great reason, like a flat tire, but that does not remove the hurt from your spouse. The way you communicate about the event will either bring your spouse emotional life or death that is not quickly forgotten. You have the greatest opportunity to love your spouse the moment your mouth opens. And it’s important to recognize this is true for both the offender and the offended.
In the book, The Five Languages of Apology, Drs. Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas site the ultimate source of our problem is our sin nature. Marriage puts together two imperfect people who have been taught apology languages from two separate sets of imperfect parents.
How did your parents apologize? Perhaps they didn’t.
How did they teach you to apologize? Was it something like, “Tell your brother/sister you’re sorry?” That was meaningful and meant, wasn’t it?
As part of the research for the book, the authors asked thousands of people two questions:
- When you apologize to someone, what do you typically say or do?
- When someone apologizes to you, what do you want to hear them say and do?
In a radio interview, Dr. Chapman explained that the goal of these questions was to find out what a sincere apology looks like.
What they found were two things. First, ten percent of the population never apologizes. Dr. Chapman points out that for some men it’s the “John Wayne Effect: Real men don’t apologize.”
The second was that there were five ways that people apologize, which they coined in the title of their book. They point out that if your family of origin used one of these but your spouse’s family used another, you may not be speaking the same apology language, which makes the apology seem meaningless – even though it’s sincere.
The Apology Languages
1.Express regret. This is where you say, “I’m sorry.” But just using those words is not enough. It’s important to explain why you’re sorry, such as “I am sorry that I was _____. I know it meant a lot to you.” Are you broken and contrite as called for in Psalm 51:17?
Do not add “but” as that shifts blame from you to them. The object is to love your husband/wife.
- Accept responsibility. “I was wrong.” This aligns with God’s call for us to confess our sins, like the prodigal son did in Luke 15:21.
- Make or offer to make restitution. “What can I do to make this right?” Check out Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8.
- Genuinely repent and express a desire to change. Repentance is a true turning from a behavior and an agreement that the behavior was wrong. Can you share how you plan to change so that you can be held accountable?
- Request forgiveness. “Will you forgive me?” While you might believe by saying you’re sorry this is not necessary, for some it means you are sincere.
Consider David’s Apology (Psalm 51)
“Have mercy on me, O God… blot out the stain of my sins.” (v. 1)
“Wash me clean from my guilt.” (v.2)
“I recognize my rebellion.” (v. 3)
“Against you, and you alone, I have sinned: I have done what is evil in your sight.” (v. 4)
What Does God Require?
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).
What Can You Do?
This may be the most important language for your marriage. The book, The Five Languages of Apology, offers much insight and guidance that goes beyond the scope of this article. Apologies do not remove painful emotions or consequences of behavior. Trust issues can run deep. For these reasons, I highly recommend incorporating the teachings of this book into your marriage as a resource of healing and hope.
Patricia Hartman, CPA is the owner of Patricia Hartman, CPA, PA, a forensic and tax accounting practice, where she has worked with hundreds of divorcing clients. She is the author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement” available at www.ChristianPrenuptial.com. She is the president of South Florida Word Weavers and a board member Living Water Christian Counseling.