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"I'm Sorry, But It Is Your Fault" (This Changed My Life & Marriage)

 I did not learn how to apologize until I was in graduate school a few years ago. As part of my counselor training, I was watching through a two-way mirror as one of my supervisors did couple's counseling. When he explained to the couple what a true apology is, he was also counseling me without knowing it. I believe God used that moment to make me a better child of God, husband, father, and friend. When he taught what a true apology is, I realized that I may have never offered a true apology in my adult life.

What He Said

"A true apology never defends, but admits. A true apology never makes your 'terribleness' the focus, but focuses on the other's pain. A true apology never asks to be excused or understood, but forgiven." 
Many times I have been in a couple's counseling session and seen one spouse turn to the other and say, "I am sorry, but ..." They go on to explain why they did what they did. At this point, they are not asking to be forgiven. When we explain why we did what we did, we are asking the person to understand and excuse us. This may be appropriate at times, but do not confuse it with an apology that asks for forgiveness.

An Example

Jesus teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our debts," not "Excuse us for our debts." We do not go to God asking for him to excuse us, and we ought to apologize this way to people as well. 
Pretend that I am walking down the sidewalk and you are walking slowly in front of me. I am late to an important meeting, so I am trying to get around you. As I pass you, our feet get tangled together and you fall. Your knee is bloody and has a terrible gash.
What should I do?
  1. I can keep on walking. After all, I did not mean to trip you. 
  2. I can say, "I am sorry. (BUT) I am in a really big hurry, and you were walking very slowly. I did not mean to trip you. Please forgive (EXCUSE) me for causing you this pain." 
  3. I can say, "I am sorry for tripping you. Your knee looks very painful. That must really hurt. Please forgive me for my part in causing you this pain."
Hopefully nobody votes for Option One. Option Two is what I would argue is most common. That is what I spent most of my life doing, and what I am still tempted to do. I believe Option Three is a real apology that admits and asks for forgiveness. Notice also that Option Two is most concerned with myself and getting off the hook, while Option Three is most concerned with the pain you feel. I used an example of physical pain here (a bloody knee), but the same is true of emotional pain. Do you care more about why you did something or about the pain that you caused another?

The Most Common Objection

The most common objection to these principles is that it sounds like we are to apologize and ask forgiveness for something we did not do intentionally or maliciously. And I would say that you are correct most of the time. Explanations can be helpful at times, but in the midst of the pain it best to focus on the person's pain instead of explaining yourself. Of course it may be helpful to let the person know that you did not intentionally hurt them at some point. That may be comforting and help them move forward. After all, read option number three again. Was option number three an admission of evil intentions? Are you willing to ask someone to forgive you for the pain you caused them only when you intentionally "sinned" again them, or will you apologize when you hurt someone whether or not you did something malicious or not?

Three Categories

  1. You do something intentionally malicious, and it hurts another person. 
  2. You do something negligent, and it accidentally hurts another person. 
  3. You do something good and right, and it hurts another person. 
We most likely all agree that you should apologize if you find yourself in Category One. I am arguing here that if you find yourself in Category Two, it is also best and most loving to apologize. You may ask, "But what if I did something right and still hurt someone?" For example, maybe you are an employer and must fire an employee for the good of the company and for the good of your service to the community. By firing the employee, you upset and hurt the person. I am not saying that this decision demands an apology. However, if you find yourself in Category Three, can you acknowledge that the person is hurting and let them know you care that they are in pain? 


  I remember teaching these principles to one man who was explaining his pornography use to his wife instead of asking forgiveness for the pain he caused. He looked at me and said something like this: "If you are right, and that is what a true apology is, then I have lived for almost fifty years and have never truly apologized to anyone." He began to weep. As we proceeded with counseling, he started focusing more on his wife's pain than his explanations. God used this to bring much healing in their marriage.  
Have you experienced a true apology? Let's be people that admit and ask forgiveness instead of explain and ask to be excused. Let's go to God and confess our sin, repent, and ask forgiveness. He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Let's humble ourselves and apologize to our spouses, family members, friends, and others by focusing more on their pain than our reasons for what we did. After all, a true apology does not explain, but admits. And a true apology does not ask to be excused, but asks to be forgiven.

1 Comment

Christopher Smith - July 8th, 2023 at 2:06am

Communication in relationships (platonic or romantic) is so important, and sometimes you might think you are communicating really well, and then, upon further reflection, you realize that there's still room for improvement.