The Art of Apology

Conflict is bound to happen in the best of marriages, and even the most self-controlled among us will slip up and do something to hurt our spouse. Sometimes it’s deliberate, and sometimes it happens without any premeditated malice on our part. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all need to apologize from time to time.

How to apologize without really being sorry

The problem is, saying we’re sorry means admitting we’re wrong about something. That never feels good. So if you want to just get it over with—you know, apologize quickly without really being sorry—there are several methods available to you.

  • Yell it. Saying, “I’m SORRY” as loud as you can helps you blow off some steam and fulfills your obligation to apologize. Win-win.
  • Add an “OK?” or “all right?” at the end. Try it out loud. “I’m sorry, OK?” There. Now you sort of sound like a victim.
  • Turn it around with a “but. For example, “I’m sorry, but what did you expect after the kind of stunt you pulled?” Shifting blame back to your spouse is both easy and liberating.
  • Use air quotes around the word when you apologize. “I’m ‘sorry’.” Now the interpretation of your meaning is totally up for grabs. If your spouse balks, just say, “What? I said I was ‘sorry.’”
  • Overdo it. “I’m so sorry for ruining your life. I’m just a colossal waste of your time and I’m so SO sorry that you’ll never be able to recover from what I did.” Now, if your spouse has any sort of decency, he or she will have to tell you you’ve taken it too far. You’ll feel wonderfully vindicated when he admits that you haven’t, in fact, ruined his life completely after all.
  • Apologize for something your spouse did instead. This is a fun one. Start out with “I’m sorry. . .” and then add on the kicker: “that you are so sensitive and take everything I say out of context and imagine the worst possible meaning. I’m sorry you live like that. Must be awful.”
  • Run out of the room as soon as you spit out the words. I picked this idea up from my three-year-old. It’s great for feeling like you’ve had the last word.

Just one small caveat with the above methods. I’ve tried several of them myself (would you believe me if I said it was for investigative research purposes?) and they don’t actually help heal a rift in a relationship. That’s the tricky thing about apologies. They only work if you really do mean it.

How to apologize if you really value your spouse

If your goal is healing and oneness in your marriage, rather than just putting a lid on the argument, you’ll have to take an approach much different than my seven ideas above. It isn’t nearly as easy, but it’s guaranteed to have better results.

  • Pray. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). If your word or action has hurt your spouse (intentionally or not), ask God to help you repent and resolve the issue in a way that honors Him.
  • Determine if a larger root problem caused the conflict. If you just had a fight about a little thing, chances are it was only a trigger for a larger source of hurt or anger. Are there external influences like stress at work or pressure from in-laws that are making you and/or your spouse jumpy? Take the big picture into consideration.
  • Decide on the right priority. Make sure that your goal is not to win the fight or cast yourself as a martyr, but to have a healthy, close relationship with your spouse.

Once you have done this internal work, now you are ready to apologize and mean it. In their book Divorce-Proof Your Marriage, Dr. Gary and Barb Rosberg identify four critical steps to requesting forgiveness:

  1. Confession: “I was wrong” or “What I did/said to you was wrong.”
  2. Sorrow: “I’m sorry.”
  3. Repentance: “I don’t ever want to hurt you like this again.”
  4. Request: “Will you forgive me?”

It may feel uncomfortable to say all of these things, but if you’ve prayed and prepared your heart, it’s worth it. “If you leave any of the four elements out of your request for forgiveness, you risk leaving the conflict unresolved,” says Rosberg. “Too often we leap to the request for forgiveness without acknowledging our wrong, expressing our remorse, or offering repentance. This is cheap forgiveness, leaving the offended person with the pain of the wrong suffered.”

So the next time you are tempted to apologize without really being sorry, stop yourself. Pray, choose to make oneness with your spouse your goal, and ask for forgiveness with the four steps in Rosberg’s method. Both you and your spouse will be able to move on in your relationship so much quicker.


Jocelyn Green is an award-winning author and freelance writer. A former military wife, she authored, along with contributing writers, Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives and Faith Deployed . . . Again: More Daily Encouragement for Military Wives. Jocelyn also co-authored of Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan, and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front, which inspired her first novel, a Civil War historical called Wedded to War. She loves Mexican food, Broadway musicals, Toblerone chocolate bars, the color red, and reading on her patio. Jocelyn lives with her husband Rob and two small children in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Visit her at and

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