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How to Apologize to a Spouse for Losing Trust

by Katrina Miller, studioD

Knowing how to make an effective apology can help you restore lost trust and wellness to your relationship. Trust that is violated brings pain to both spouses. For your spouse, feelings of betrayal can trigger a deluge of toxic thoughts and emotions. For you, forgiveness can ease your fear of revenge or rejection. Apologizing can never erase what happened. However, if your spouse accepts your apology, it can remove the negative effects and even strengthen your relationship.

Admit wrongdoing. Your acknowledgement of wrongdoing helps your spouse begin to make sense of the situation. For victims, the healing process includes figuring out how offenders should be viewed and treated, according to a review of research by Ryan Fehr, assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Washington. By accepting responsibility for the wrong, you can nudge your spouse's hope that you understand the problem. An affirmative answer to the unspoken question, "Is my spouse's offense forgivable?" begins to form. Remember that the effectiveness of admitting wrongdoing will be undone if you suggest that your partner shares the blame.

Demonstrate empathy for hurting your spouse. An offended spouse may wonder if the offense occurred because of malice or indifference. Empathy demonstrates compassion and warmth. Your expression of empathy can help your spouse understand that you have good will, erasing any threat that you might not care. You can effectively show empathy by verbalizing what you know about how your transgression made your spouse feel. You might say, for example, "I know I lost your trust when I lied about ..."

Express remorse. Sharing that the transgression brought pain to your conscience can strengthen your spouse's understanding that you care about how you treat him and how he feels. Your spouse will look for evidence that your remorse is sincere, rather than a persuasion tactic. Your tone of voice and facial expression should reflect the remorse you feel. Crying, reaching for his hand or meeting his gaze with a look of love can emphasize caring intention.

Offer amends. Making amends places you in the subservient role and your spouse in the dominant role. It is an equalizer for the loss of status and power that your spouse may have perceived when you offended him. For example, if you said something unkind about your spouse, you could promise to talk positively about him in the future and show respect for him in front of other people. If you had an affair, you could promise to direct your energy into building reward and meaningfulness into your relationship with your spouse.

Discuss how to improve the future. The goal in discussing the future is to restore your spouse's feelings of safety, according to Douglas L. Kelley, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University. You may pledge to not repeat your transgression or even revise the rules to help prevent the transgression from happening again. If a promise is too big of a step, you could assure your spouse that you will improve your behavior and describe how you will improve.

About the Author

Katrina Miller is a medical writer specializing in behavioral health. She has been published in "Family Perspectives" and the "Salt Lake Tribune." She has a doctoral degree in Family and Human Development from Utah State University.

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