The problem with the way most people say ‘I’m sorry’ is that they say it too soon. In other words, they apologize before they could possibly understand what they’re apologizing for.
Example: Husband offends wife. Wife gets angry. Husband realizes that he’s in the dog house. Husband knows WHAT HE DID but has no clue WHY it upset his wife. Husband says, ‘I’m sorry.’ Husband just blew it again!
A true apology is not for what YOU did. It’s for the pain you caused YOUR SPOUSE. And you can only apologize for that after you get inside your spouse’s heart and feel their hurt.
Sometimes ‘I’m sorry’ is NOT an apology; it’s a request to move on. In other words, if you don’t know your spouse’s pain, then ‘I’m sorry’ is really just a selfish request for relief of YOUR pain (the pain of being in the dog house).
It’s easy to know what you did. The question is: How did it make your spouse feel? WHY did it upset them? When you know the answers to these questions, then, and only then, are you ready to apologize.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been coaching a gentleman who’s in the midst of a marriage crisis. He made a lot of mistakes in his marriage (some pretty severe) and he’s in jeopardy of losing his family. But, unlike most people, he’s willing to take a brutal look at himself and try to fix what’s broken.
One of the first things we did was identify his mistakes. His assignment was to write a letter of apology to his wife. It took a couple of drafts before he understood what I meant by apology (see above), but he nailed it as well as anyone I’ve ever coached.
Writing your apology letter
Identify one mistake you’ve made and write a letter of apology to your spouse. Of course, you’ll need to describe your mistake. But more importantly, I want you to describe your SPOUSE’S FEELINGS. Describe THEIR experience of your mistake.
If your spouse knows that you felt their pain, then they’ll know that you won’t do it again. That’s when they’ll accept ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you can move on.
Mort Fertel is a world authority on the psychology of relationships and has an international reputation for saving marriages. In addition to working with couples, he teaches individuals how to single-handedly transform their marital situation.