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How to say sorry to your spouse and really mean it

Marital arguments cannot be avoided, but you can lessen the damage it can cause your by saying sorry. But how do you say sorry and mean it?

Celeste Davis takes parties and gatherings very seriously, going out of her way to plan things in advance and making sure everything is in order for the big day.

On one occasion, however, she wasn’t able to prepare for a dinner party she’s throwing. It was to start at 6PM, and she had enlisted her husband Rich's help.

However, at 5:55PM, her husband still wasn’t home.

“I was rearing and ready with my list of complaints that made it perfectly clear who was in the wrong and who was in the right in this situation and I was ready to spout them off Mount St. Helens style,” she says in her Family Share story.

At 6PM that night, as if on cue, her husband arrived, dropped his backpack, and immediately approached her.

He put his hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eye and said: "I'm SO sorry I'm late! I got caught up in my experiment and my co-worker needed help right as I was going to leave, but I still should have finished earlier. I'm so sorry.”

He hugged her then and said: "What can I do?”

Celesete felt all the fight drain from her.

“It was a darn good apology,” she says. “So good that it cleared up my anger and a fight before one even happened. That is the power of a good apology.”

It made her wonder what makes for a good apology, and she summed it up into four points.

Find out the 4 key points in saying sorry to your spouse and meaning it

Value their perception

When in an argument, it’s easy to get caught up in one’s own perception of the situation that they forget where the other is coming from.

“Rich could have very easily stated why he was very justified in being late and how I was in the wrong to be so upset,” Celeste says. “He could have correctly reminded me that I should have started preparing earlier.

“He could have suggested I order take out instead of making a time-consuming meal. But he didn't. He valued my perception of the situation and spoke to my state of frustration.”

No buts about it

Adding a “but” to your apology undermines its sincerity. Not only that, by adding a “but,” you’re actually trying to justify and make excuses for your failure, when you should be feeling sincerely sorry for it.

“If something is really bothering you, bring it up in a safe time and place for discussing issues like companionship inventory,” Celeste adds. “This way if you need to apologize for something when your spouse is hurting, then you can apologize sincerely and then bring it back up when feelings have calmed down a bit and you're both in a better mood for problem solving.”

Use complete sentences

You may think this one strange, but according to therapist Richard Miller, there’s a good reason for it.

He says:

“I have found that effective apologies usually come in complete sentences. A simple ‘sorry’ or the far more eloquent ‘sorry about that’ rarely provides the necessary evidence that you feel remorseful and that you are taking appropriate responsibility for your actions.

Even the current fad of saying ‘my bad’ (with the dutiful patting of your chest) is usually inadequate - unless, I guess, you are in the middle of a coed intramural basketball game.

It is much more healing to say: ‘I'm sorry that I didn't do the dishes last night like I agreed to. It wasn't right, and I apologize’ - two full and complete sentences. A full and complete apology that comes packaged in complete sentences will do wonders in healing hurts.”

Be friends with your spouse

When you’re friends with your spouse, you find it easier to forgive them and see things through their eyes. Being friends also results in a more open communication, which then makes you value their opinion and want to have fun together. This, according to renowned marriage psychologist John Gottman, is the key to not getting divorced.

READ: Teach your kids to say sorry and actually mean it

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