Forgiveness is an essential part of a growing relationship. Without a consistent practice of forgiveness, relationships are repressed. Forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to most of us, certainly not to me, but it can be learned.
Forgiveness doesn’t always involve reconciliation. The sad reality is that sometimes forgiveness may need to happen for the offended party to move on and begin to heal, but restoring a relationship with the offender would actually be an unhealthy and unwise thing to do. For instance, I do not have a relationship with the man who sexually abused me as a child. For my own sake, I do work on forgiveness over that situation regularly. I don’t need to have contact with him or work through anything with him. He is an unsafe person and pursuing any kind of reconciliation would be toxic to my life. I share that extreme example because forgiveness is such a tough and confusing topic for those of us who have experienced this kind of deep betrayal.
For now, as we talk about forgiveness, let’s agree that we are talking about forgiveness in the context of relationships we value and want to continue, like our marriages. If we want our marriages to last, forgiveness must be learned and practiced over and over again.
Apologize. Forgive. Repeat.
The act of forgiveness is just one side of the equation. For Tony and I, there is a regular rhythm of forgiving and apologizing. Sometimes it’s a quick tapping on the snare drum… apologize, forgive, apologize, forgive, apologize, forgive. Sometimes there is a longer wait and a few extra beats in between… Stand off. Eye contact. Apologize. Stew. Avoid. Forgive. The goal is always to get to apologizing and forgiving at some point, even if there are motions that happen in between. It’s our rhythm, it’s not perfect, but we keep working on it.
Last week we focused on the forgiveness side of our rhythm. We shared with you that a relationship cannot last without a consistent practice of forgiveness. A good apology is a pretty essential factor in each of us coming to a point of sincere forgiveness. I used to believe that forgiveness was essential regardless of an apology. In some cases, I still believe it, but I have since learned that if a relationship is going to grow, both are truly necessary.
I can forgive someone who has not apologized, but our relationship will be stunted. Trust has been broken and it’s not going to be repaired without the other person acknowledging I was hurt. So it is in the case of my relationship with the man who abused me. I have and continue to forgive him through counseling and my own healing process, but he has not and will not apologize. Our relationship is absolutely not going to grow. We are completely separated and I am the better for it. Again, an extreme example so that we can get to the relationship we really want to talk about, our marriage relationships, and the way we do want it to grow.
In our marriages, apologies are just as necessary as forgiveness. An apology is usually the turning point in a fight. It’s the point at which you go from heated anger and growing resentment to consider how to grow past an offense. Sometimes apologies can be weak and actually make the situation worse. But, just like we can learn to be better forgivers, we can also learn to apologize in the way our spouse will best receive it.
What Kind of Apology Do You Need?
Tony and I often talk about understanding each other’s Love Language. Since discovering them, through Gary Chapman’s research and book, we have found them incredibly valuable in relating to and understanding each other. It turns out that Gary Chapman and co-author and researcher Jennifer Thomas have also discovered there are five distinct ways that people express and prefer to receive apologies. They go into great detail and wonderful examples in their book When Sorry Isn’t Enough, so it’s definitely worth the read. In the mean time, take a look at this list and consider which of these types of apologies you are most likely to make and which you prefer to hear from someone who hurts you…
The Five Languages of Apology
If you’d like to discover your personal Apology Language Profile, you can take their free assessment here. It takes about 15 minutes, so give yourself some time, preferably when you are relaxed and try not to rush through it. Hint: You can click the Start button even if you don’t enter your name and email if you’d like to get started right away.
We believe that all five are so important, so we have our own way of thinking about apologizing that, as it turns out, incorporates them all. It’s a short list of dos and don’ts that we’ve named “The Best Apology.” Now, if you’re like me, you won’t find yourself wrong very often… or you won’t realize that you were wrong very often… so you might want to Pin this image so you can refer back to it on the rare occasion that you do need to apologize.
Talk these through with your spouse. Take a look at each point and decide together how you would feel if your partner apologized to you using these dos and don’ts. Take some time to take the Apology Language Profile and share your results with one another. It could be that the apologies you’ve been making haven’t been received because they are in the wrong apology language. Arguing and fighting are natural and necessary parts of marriage and we aren’t going to always be able to avoid them. So, it’s essential that we get really good at apologizing, forgiving, and committing to #staymarried.
The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, we would love for you to share them.
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