top of page

Five Elements of Effective Apologies

Even in the best of marriages, inevitably one spouse will do (or fail to do) something that hurts or disappoints the other. To be sure, both spouses in a marriage are imperfect and prone to sin. Both husbands and wives are in daily need of grace, forgiveness, and God's transformative work in their lives and relationship. Ruth Graham Bell, whose marriage to the Reverend Billy Graham lasted over sixty years was often heard to say, "A good marriage is made of two good forgivers". How true!

When it comes to creating a loving intimate marriage, one that goes the distance, forgiveness is an indispensable quality. But there is another crucial trait that goes hand in hand with becoming a good forgiver. And that is becoming a good apologizer.

Apologizing can be one of the most difficult yet transformative actions we take within our marriages but if done flippantly or insincerely it can also become one of the easiest ways to reinstate hurt and resentment.

Here are five essential elements that need to be present to ensure our apologies are effective in renewing oneness in our marriages:

1. Humility

An effective apology begins with a humble heart. Recognizing that none of us are perfect allows us to approach our spouse with an openness and an awareness that our words or actions have hurt them. By humbling ourselves, we create an environment conducive to healing and restoration. Humility fosters an atmosphere of grace and understanding.

2. Ownership

A sincere apology involves taking full ownership of our actions without deflecting blame onto others. Genuine apologies acknowledge the specific offense and demonstrate a real understanding of its impact on our spouse. Owning our actions allows us to validate our partner's feelings and paves the way for genuine reconciliation. A quick "I'm sorry." is never as helpful as "I'm sorry for ...., I'm sure that made you feel ... or ...".

3. Understanding

Understanding our spouse's perspective and how our actions have affected them is a powerful way to demonstrate our willingness to connect with them. One of the principles we have taught our children in their conflict resolution as well as our own is to "seek first to understand and then to be understood". Empathy allows us to connect at a heart level and not just at a head level.

4. Vulnerability

Expressing remorse and regret for our actions requires a level of vulnerability that quite honestly most of us are uncomfortable with. Being transparent about our faults requires trust but it also elicits trust in our spouse. When we authentically admit our need for forgiveness we open the door to mutual commitment toward healing.

5. Seek Reconciliation

Our goal is to restore the relationship. Sometimes this happens quickly but sometimes this may require us to be patient. Our spouse may need some time and space to process our apology and their own emotions. A part of reconciling is expressing our commitment to change or to right a wrong. Demonstrating genuine efforts to change and grow ensures that our apologies don't become empty words.

The power of apology in our marriages should never be underestimated. When we offer our spouses thoughtful apologies, we demonstrate humility, grace, and a commitment to growing in Christ-likeness together. When husbands and wives are quick to apologize and quick to forgive it not only enables the restoration of the relationships but also deepens the bond between them. For Christ-centered marriages, it's also an opportunity to experience and demonstrate a visible expression of Gospel concepts like repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

ADDITIONAL: For additional help on this important topic, take a few minutes to check out a post we shared in November of 2021. May you and your spouse continue to grow in the seeking and granting of forgiveness!!

Abiding Marriage, August 2023. Author: Barry Williams is the Marriage and Parenting Pastor for the Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas and serves on the Board of Directors for Abiding Marriage. He and his bride Shannon have been married for 32 years.

Photo by Mark Tulin on Unsplash


bottom of page