Saying "I'm Sorry"

We all have been taught at one time or another in our lives that we need to say we are sorry. We are told that when we do something wrong we need to admit it and then seek to make it right with the person we have offended. This act of confession & making a relationship right is something that was established long ago. In the Old Testament we see the importance of admitting a wrong and making it right. Leviticus 5:5 says, “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.” Not only are we to confess our sin we are to do it from a heart that truly understands the pain that was caused. David in the Psalms confessed his sin in many different circumstances. He says, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” When was the last time you were actually troubled over what you did wrong? So true confession is a process of understanding the depth of what I have done wrong. It is almost common sense to anyone you talk to, yet when it comes to adult relationships we struggle to actually admit anything we did was not for a good reason regardless of how much it hurt the other person.

In marriage confession and forgiveness is a huge key to building and maintaining an intimate relationship. Who wants to be married to someone who believes they are never wrong and seems to be an expert at pointing out every time you are wrong? Yet that is how many of us live and act in our marriages. We are experts on our spouses short comings and failures and we are blind, or at least feel we have good reasons, for our own failures. So rather than drawing our spouse towards us we become the source of pain that pushes our spouse away, which we then point out as one of our spouses problems that needs to be fixed. If we are to have intimacy in our marriage we need to put into practice what we were taught as a kid and what we teach our own kids today.

Confession: Admitting When You Are Wrong

Confession is something that few of us like to practice in our society because it puts us in a one down position and we don’t like to be seen as failing at anything. We know we are not perfect, but we really don’t want someone else to know it because we feel it puts us in too vulnerable of a position. After all, we have good reasons for why we did what we did. Those reasons usually have to do with something the other person did that “caused” us to respond the way we did. So rather than confess anything or admit we are wrong, we feel at some level our spouse deserved what he/she got which causes us to feel a sense of being vindicated or that our actions where somehow just given the circumstances. The reality is, we are rationalizing our behavior and selling the intimacy we could have in our marriage for the cheap imitation of feeling superior to our spouse or getting even. If we are to grow close to our spouse we have to admit when we are wrong.

There are some who do confess when they are wrong, usually after it is so obvious to anyone who looked at it or because we want to hurry up and get past the conflict. So we confess quickly with little or no feeling or heart put into it, almost like we are demanding the other person move on, like we did when we were made to do it as kid. The motivation is not to truly understand our wrong and make the relationship right. That would feel like rubbing our noses in what we did wrong. Instead we just want to move on from the incident as quickly as possible. The result is usually our spouse questioning whether we really are sorry or not responding in the gracious way we felt our apology warranted. Then we get mad all over again, this time at the fact that our spouse won’t move on as quickly as we think he/she should and we start the argument all over again, this time with more ammunition about how our spouse has no grace. This game we play with confession and forgiveness only reinforces the fact that too many of us are out to be right instead of being intimate. We want intimacy but without any kind of cost. The reality is that you cannot have intimacy without being willing to be vulnerable. If you are unwilling to be vulnerable, the best you can have is proximity.

How to Seek Forgiveness
True confession and forgiveness, starts with a true realization of how I have wronged my spouse. It is not just to get over the situation or to quickly move on from an argument so I can sleep at night or move on to my next thing knowing I have resolved the conflict. Instead it is truly feeling how it must have felt to be my spouse when I offended him/her.

From that heart I confess and admit my wrong to let my spouse know I understand the pain I caused and I am truly sorry for the way I hurt him/her. Then I ask for forgiveness and wait for my spouse to respond. He/she may not be ready to forgive me and that is ok. I need to give the time and space for my spouse to process the event in his/her own way. It is important to never confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Forgiveness can be given but that does not mean that everything is back to normal instantly. Forgiveness is not the ultimate do over. There was still pain and there is still a cautiousness that results that needs to be worked through for true reconciliation to happen. The pain we cause our spouse has consequences and those consequences usually have to do with the time it takes to recover to a place of full reconciliation and intimacy. But without confession and forgiveness, true reconciliation cannot happen.

So when you have wronged your spouse, even if your spouse wronged you in the process. Take some time to consider your part, confess your part to your spouse and ask for forgiveness, In doing so you demonstrate your commitment to him/her, empathy for their pain, and you start a process of reconciliation that leads to greater intimacy.

Criticism & Relationships

I see a lot of people in marriage who try to use criticism as a way to connect with their spouse or to help make their spouse a “better person.” I really believe that most people think that their approach to criticism is a good one and only have the best of intentions for their spouse. In fact they feel their form of criticism is constructive or not really criticism at all. The problem with criticism is no one really wants it. Think about it for a moment. How many people would raise their hands and say they could use more criticism in their lives because they really want to grow and be the best they could be? Would you really want to receive the criticism you give to your spouse?

Criticism in a marriage almost always leads to defensiveness and some kind of resentment. Criticism says, “You have something wrong with you and I am going to point it out to make sure you change it because I don’t struggle with those kinds of things in my life.” It almost always comes across as a superiority thing and usually feels condescending at best. It usually communicates that you do not really accept your spouse completely and won’t accept them until they get certain areas of their lives “fixed.”

So if criticism is not constructive, how do I help my spouse change the things that are off? First you need to check your motives. Are you really concerned with helping your spouse grow? Or are you trying to make your own life easier by getting your spouse to go along with your program? If you are doing it for selfish reasons then it will almost always come out wrong. Next, Have you built into the life of your spouse? If you have invested no time into your spouses life and haven’t recognized the positives in your spouses life and pointed them out, it will be difficult to hear your words of correction. Think about it this way, do you honor your spouse as much as you try to change her/him? How many encouraging comments do you give to the number of critical ones? Would your spouse even be able to hear your words of help in areas of her/his life that she/he may need to work on? Or, are you so negative that she/he can’t even hear your words anymore? Have you banked enough encouragement in her/his life that she/he respects and responds when you point out a fault?

If you want to have influence into your spouses life, you need to be a person your spouse trusts and knows has her/his best interests at heart. It is when you have that kind of relationship that it is easy to listen to things you may need to work on in your life. Of course in that kind of response it is not criticism at all but truly helping one another to grow.

Empathy: The Key to a Healthy Marriage

Imagine for a minute you are working with a married couple who is struggling with their relationship. You sit down and ask them what the issues are. Each person proceeds to describe what they think the problem is. Their description is filled with all the things that their spouse is doing wrong with the occasional sprinkle of admission of the “small” things they may have done to contribute to the problem. After both parties have described their concerns you turn to one spouse and ask, “What do you think your spouse is feeling right now?” Or, “Put yourself in your spouses shoes and tell me what you might be feeling.” Silence. Then a fumbling attempt at an answer that usually is far off the mark. Why do we struggle so much with putting ourselves in another person’s shoes?

The ability to put yourself in your spouses’ shoes is called empathy. Empathy allows you to consider how things may be effecting your spouse, to see his/her perspective, and to be able to actually understand where he/she is coming from. This empathy skill can save you hours of conflict and can actually develop in you a deeper understanding of the other person and even an appreciation for his/her point of view. It is empathy that allows couples to overcome many obstacles and arguments. The beauty of empathy is even if you are wrong in what you think your spouse is feeling, just the act of trying to understand communicates love and connection. If more couples would work at this skill and take risks in asking one another questions instead of always trying to “convince” their partners that they are right or their perspective is the only logical one to have, we would see a huge reduction in the amount and level of intensity of the conflict many couples face.

So how do you begin to have empathy in the context of marriage? First, you have to commit to yourself that winning an argument or having your spouse understand to your satisfaction your perspective are not the goals of your relationship. As soon as you make it about you and your perspective, you fail to have any bandwidth to actually have empathy for your spouse. Second, your goal is to have your spouse say “you got it” either verbally or non verbally. That means you need to take a risk and say to your spouse, “It seems like you are feeling x.” Or, if you have no clue, “what are you feeling right now and how can I help?” These types of questions will help you become an expert on your spouse the more you practice them. Finally, instead of then going on to forcing your spouse to get your perspective try to move towards your spouse in a way that shows you understand how he/she is feeling. It may be a hug or allowing your spouse to vent. Whatever it is, as long as your emotion and response are appropriate to what he/she is feeling you are showing your spouse you understand and care.

Empathy is one of the major keys to making relationships work and to draw a couple closer together. In what ways have you experienced empathy from your spouse? What are some ideas you can share with others on how to show empathy to your spouse. Share your ideas on the comments section below.