How I Learned to Stop Giving Non-Apology Apologies to My Husband

Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea in <em>Fireproof</em>
Kirk Cameron and Erin Bethea in Fireproof Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

I’d like to start with an apology to my husband.

God, I am so incredibly sorry — for the past, for the present, for the future times I might let you down, although I pray that they will be few.

I am sorry that I am such a ruthless, self-centered cannibal of pain and sadness and moments. I am sorry that in the midst of a marriage-counseling session this week, my brain drifted off to thinking, “How can I use this?”

I am sorry that you have seen my eyes narrow into little slits, my mouth contort into utter disgust, and my heart turn into a block of ice as my complaints skyrocket from frustration to full-on ad hominem character assassination.

And I am sorry for being such a terrible apologizer.

This is an apology for all previous apologies. This is an apology for all those apologies that were two, maybe three, words in total and about as forgettable as they were long.

They are garbage. They are garbage apologies. And it’s why I have had to give so many of them. I’ve forgotten about them before they’re even half out of my mouth. You knew it, and so did I, and I felt scared to go deeper because I’m always afraid that one seam will unravel the entire raggedy sweater I’ve managed to keep stitched together thus far.

You know I am a big fan of the self-help classic The Five Love Languages, and I maintain that it’s excellent for understanding what makes your partner tick. But honestly, I think I may have been reading the wrong book.

After doing tons of research as to why my limp repetition of “I’m sorry” never really seemed to hit the way I wanted it to, I stumbled upon the magic of Gary Chapman’s follow-up book The Five Languages of Apology.

The book outlines different strategies for remorse. In Chapman’s words, “An apology has more impact when it’s specific. Be specific about what you are sorry about. Demonstrate by language that you understand how and how much you have hurt the person.”

Also, please, for the love of God, don’t say “but.” As he writes, “Anytime we verbally shift the blame to the other person, we have moved from an apology to an attack. Attacks never lead to forgiveness and reconciliation.”

So here are five steps that anyone can take to graduate from a throwaway half-conscious “I’m sorry” into a big beautiful textured bouquet of requesting forgiveness, outlining a course of action for change and taking unrelenting ownership for the pain you may have inflicted.

  1. “Express regret.” What can you say to acknowledge that you express regret in a meaningful way? I am sick that I have hurt my husband so many times through the sheer impulse of my misdirected temper.
  1. “Accept responsibility.” This is not saying, “I was wrong, but you have to understand …” Just say, “I was wrong.” If you truly accept responsibility for what you have done, there is no place for “… but” qualifiers in what you say. I was wrong to be such a raging bitch when I would never act that way to anyone else.
  1. “Make restitution.” What changes will you make to help make things right between the two of you? For me this means therapy, meditation, more therapy, journaling, and not using my husband as my personal verbal punching bag.
  1. “Genuinely repent.” Look in your heart and ask why you want to make sure that this pattern stops repeating itself. I don’t want to inflict pain with my temper again, and I’m committed that, no matter how angry I become, I will not resort to the same awful tactics of name-calling and insults that have led me to this place of remorseful contrition right now.
  1. “Request forgiveness.” How can you meaningfully ask to be forgiven for hurt you have caused? I pray that my husband will forgive me because I love him more than anything, and I am dedicated to making changes that will prevent repeating the same mistakes — namely dealing with my temper in healthy outlets that are not directed toward him.

To my husband, I’d like to end with an apology, too.

I am sorry that I have abused the vulnerability you entrust me with and used your words against you.

I am sorry that I have made up every excuse imaginable about why I didn’t want to keep going to therapy and instead carried around all those unsorted feelings like a 200-pound anchor tied to my heart and my head.

I am sorry that I have so much trouble with feelings.

I am sorry that my insults and verbal jabs and eye rolls sprinkle our love with a toxic contaminant of contempt. I would not treat a stranger that way, I would not treat a boss or a co-worker or an underling that way, so why should I treat my best friend and partner so cavalierly?

I am sorry that I can never seem to remember to simply say “I am in a lot of pain right now,” because I forget that pain is not anger and does not cause hurt and destruction and despair in its path.

I am sorry that you are constantly wondering if I am going to switch into someone who is cruel, cold, and condescending just because she had a really bad day.

I am sorry that I need a response right now and cannot leave it alone while we both cool off.

I am sorry that it took me so long to realize that saying “I am sorry” without further explanation communicated, “This is not important.”

I am asking for your forgiveness, hopefully for the last time.

How I Stopped Giving Non-Apology Apologies