Individual Counseling Marriage Counseling Relationships

Marriage Counseling: The Art of Apologizing

I see a lot of couples for marriage counseling, and one of the top requests is to get help with communication. Apologizing is a necessary part of effective communication. What often happens is that communication breaks down even before a conversation starts. This can happen because your spouse has an idea of how you’re going to respond to them before you say anything. If they imagine you’re going to respond defensively, they already have their counterargument going in their head.

Why Your Spouse is Mad Before They Give You a Chance

We often have these arguments with our spouses in our heads. We try 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 before they even talk to us. This doesn’t help the conversation get off to a good start when they are mad 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. No one does everything right all the time which means you’re bound to screw up once in a while. Subsequently, there should be a sincere apology that follows. If you become defensive when confronted with something, or try to avoid blame, this behavior will shape your spouse’s expectations for future conversations.

However, if they become used to bringing something to your attention and you take ownership of things you’ve done wrong, they’ll learn to approach you calmly. They will be more likely to approach you in a less combative way. When we don’t apologize for things we’ve done wrong, it tells them we will probably do it again.

Effective Apologies Include These Three Things

I’m not a believer in apologizing for things you haven’t done wrong. But once you realize you’ve done something wrong, you should apologize. The apology should include what you did wrong, that you regret doing it, and that you’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 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 you’re mature enough to admit your mistakes, and that you will try not to repeat the behavior. It can be painful to admit when you’re wrong. But you at least get credit for being adult enough to admit it. This can help strengthen your relationship.

Most couples are doing more things right than they are doing wrong. When you get stuck in a pattern that prevents you from discussing things that trouble you, marriage counseling can help.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults.  He provides counseling for anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, and relationship problems.  For more information, please visit the website at