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Marriage Counseling: The Art of Apologizing

In my Grand Rapids counseling office, I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling, and one of the top requests is to get help with communication. What often happens is that communication breaks down even before a conversation starts because your spouse has an idea of how you’re going to respond to them and what you’re going to say even before they come to you to tell you what’s on their mind.

We often have these arguments with our spouses, in our heads, trying to anticipate what the other person is likely to say and how we will respond to that. As a result, our spouse can be angry with us based on this argument they’ve had in their head even before they talk to us in actuality. This doesn’t help the conversation get off to a good start when they are mad at us before they even start talking.

However, it’s quite possible there’s a good reason for why they are expecting us to respond poorly in the first place. It sometimes has to do with their past experience with us not taking responsibility for things we’ve done wrong, and apologizing for our behavior. No one does everything right all the time which means you’re bound to screw up once in a while and there should be a sincere apology that follows. If instead, you become defensive when your spouse confronts you with something, or try to find ways to make it not really your fault, you can expect this behavior will shape your spouse’s expectations for how future conversations will go.

If on the other hand, they become used to being able to bring something to your attention and experience you responding by taking ownership of things you’ve done wrong, they will become to expect that future conversations/conflicts will also be remedied easily and they will be more likely to approach you in a less combative way. When we don’t apologize or take ownership of things we’ve done wrong that hurt those we care about, even when they bring it to our attention, it tells them we will probably do it over again since we don’t see our behavior as a problem.

I’m not a believer in apologizing for things you don’t believe you’ve done wrong, but once you realize you’ve done something you shouldn’t have, then you should apologize. The apology should be an expression of what you did wrong, that you regret doing it, and that the other person didn’t deserve that behavior or consequence of your behavior. Saying you’re sorry that they were offended by your actions is not an apology.

Don’t let your pride get in the way of taking ownership of things you do wrong. Apologizing shows others that we are mature enough to admit our mistakes, and that we will try not to repeat the behavior. Even though it can be painful to admit when we’re wrong, we at least get credit from others for being adult enough to admit it, and this can help strengthen our relationships.

Most couples are doing more things right than they are doing wrong. However, when you get stuck in a pattern that prevents you from being able to discuss those things between the two of you that trouble you, doing marriage counseling is a good way to interrupt the pattern. Gary Watson provides solution-focused marriage counseling in Grand Rapids, MI. He is available to help you make adjustments to your relationship and get it back on track.