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How to Apologize in a Marriage

by Karen L. Blair

Our spouses can be among the hardest people to apologize to, given how much we love them and how averse we are to seeing them hurt or disappointed. Although apologizing can be difficult, it's a critical part of a healthy marriage. Everyone transgresses from time to time, but not everyone offers effective and sincere apologies when they do. Learning to apologize to your spouse will help you mend the painful moments in your marriage and focus on the positive and happy times together.

Apologizing to Your Spouse

Make a clear statement of apology to your spouse by saying "I'm sorry" and specify exactly what it is for which you are apologizing. An effective apology demonstrates sincere remorse and also acknowledges what precisely was done wrong. Neither of these elements can stand alone, as simply saying you are sorry will appear flippant, while only stating what you did wrong but not communicating your remorse will not make your spouse feel as though you have apologized. Thus, you must combine both of these elements in order for your apology to be perceived as sincere.

Request forgiveness from your spouse but be aware that asking for forgiveness can be tricky: If you ask too quickly, you can appear insincere, and not asking for forgiveness at all can undermine the effectiveness of your apology. To ask for forgiveness the right way, you should acknowledge what you have done wrong, express your sincere remorse, and ask that your partner accept your apology and offer his or her forgiveness. It is important to be patient during this process, as depending on the severity of the transgression you're apologizing for, the recipient of such a request may need time to think and to process their own feelings as well as the content of your apology.

Empathizing with your partner can make the difference between an effective and an ineffective apology. Although it can be difficult to know or understand the feelings of another, listen to what your spouse says and make an effort to put yourself in his or her shoes. Don't judge what your spouse tells you, instead, focus on offering acknowledgement and validation of his or her feelings. Understanding how your spouse is feeling will help you to make your apology more sincere and ultimately, more effective.

Attempt to reconcile the situation by making an offer of amends or compensation. Remember that the 'punishment should fit the crime,' meaning that whatever you offer to do to make it up to your spouse should be closely related to what you previously did wrong. If your offer of compensation is too unrelated to your transgression your spouse may feel that your remorse and apology are insincere and that you have not truly put thought into your actions and their consequences. By offering to do or say something that actually helps to remedy the situation you will demonstrate your understanding of what you did wrong, why it was wrong, and how it made your spouse feel.

About the Author

Karen L. Blair has been professionally writing since 2001. Her work has been published in academic journals such as the "Journal of Sex Research," "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships" and "Psychology & Sexuality." Blair received her M.Sc. in psychology at Acadia University and her Ph.D. in social psychology at Queen's University. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow and research consultant.

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