Leaders are made or broken in times of conflict. Often, when I think I am spiritually leading my family with my best foot forward, I have a conflict with my spouse that I handle in a terribly ungraceful way. Part of what drew my husband and I together was passion, and that same passion can just as easily tear us apart when we become impassioned with being right, proving a point…or being lousy at apologies and forgiveness. Focusing on better apologies and more forgiveness are powerful ways to strengthen your marriage.
Learn to become more graceful at apologizing and forgiving with these small steps and techniques:
- Say the words “I’m sorry.” These word really do carry significant meaning, and often just hearing them lifts a heaviness from the conflict, becoming that first crucial step toward reconciliation.
- Do not add qualification. I regularly fight the temptation to say, “I’m sorry, but….” This week, just avoid the buts.
- Accept responsibility. Your spouse deserves more from you. It’s pretty important to acknowledge that. Take responsibility when you inflict harm on them, no matter how serious and avoid the temptation to justify your actions by somehow blaming them for the offense (“If you had a better sense of humor, you wouldn’t have been upset by my comment”).
- Express genuine empathy. Nothing falls flatter and escalates a conflict more than an insincere apology. Take the time to understand why your spouse was hurt by what you did or said, and put yourself in their shoes, genuinely seeking to feel their hurt so you can better express regret for being the cause of their pain. Yes, look outside yourself…marriage gives us plenty of practice in this.
- Make up for it. Offer some form of compensation for the hurt you inflicted. This doesn’t have to be an expensive bouquet of roses or something (though I’ve never refused that gesture…), but can be as simple as a hug – if it’s wanted, of course.
- Forgive truly and repeatedly. How easily we forget what Scripture has to say about forgiveness: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Could Jesus be any clearer? Be ready to forgive 70 x 7, knowing forgiveness brings a great deal of relief to both the offender and the offended, and forgive with your whole heart. Rather than saying, “It’s okay,” verbalize the actual words, “I forgive you”…and mean it.
One last thing: The ability to apologize and forgive well is largely dependent on your reliance on Christ’s love to help you grow in that marriage builder. Pope Francis told a group of married couples, “The love of Christ is able to sustain [the union of husband and wife] and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded, or worn out.” Pray this week that you can better accept Christ’s love and pour that same love into your spouse’s life.