Friday, October 9, 2009

Saying Sorry and Doing Differently

Sorry is as sorry does. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Did you grow up hearing some of these axioms from your parents? There’s a lot of wisdom in those little phrases, eh?

What are the two most important words in marriage? We think it’s these two, “I’m sorry”. But an apology has to be followed by different behavior if it is going to be believable. To apologize and then to not do differently builds up walls of mistrust and resentment, and we’ve all seen how that can be terminal for a relationship. Thus, daily dismantling of walls that keep us separate from one another is an essential component of daily relationship hygiene; it keeps things between you clean, clear and healthy.

Daily hygiene? Sure. Just as you care for your physical body, care for your relationships. How, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1.Say you are sorry and mean it. An effective way to do this is to pray for revelation about the ways you have hurt your partner and the courage to admit it. Then, ask them if you can have their attention to make an apology. “I know I hurt you when ________. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” How many times to do this? Do it as many as you need to because there is no continuation of relationship without forgiveness.

2.Hear how you affected your spouse by your actions. It’s one thing to apologize and to hear that you are forgiven. It’s another thing to enjoy a fully reconciled relationship, and that only happens when the offended party trusts that you understand how your actions affected them. Ask, “Will you share with me what you thought and how you felt when I ______ (fill in what you said/did).”

a. Then, be very careful to listen with a selfless heart and to reflect what you heard them say. (See below for tips on effective listening). This can be extremely difficult as your SELF might want to arise in defensiveness, but remember, your partner’s feelings can’t be wrong. They might feel and see things differently than you, but remember that you invited them to share how your actions affected them. Now that they are willing to give you the gift of their honest feelings, hang on their every word, understanding that this IS the path back to a reconciled relationship. The fact that they are willing to share with you is so much better than the alternative of stone-walling and refusal which is a well-known death knell for a relationship.

3. Do differently. Pray for revelation and ask your spouse what they would like differently from you. Ask what they would like more or less, and what they would like you to stop or start doing that will help them to trust you and feel closer to you. Then, ask Jesus to help you to do that, and consider asking a friend or two to pray and to support, encourage and hold you accountable to keep doing or not doing the things that your marriage needs to be healthier, safer and more pleasurable.

Relationships erode and break without consistent effort to nurture and protect them. None are exempt from offenses; words and actions that hurt feelings and erode trust. But, it is not inevitable for a relationship to die, IF we each recognize and take responsibility for our actions, and remain tender to conviction of the Holy Spirit and respectful to feedback from our spouses.

As long as partner’s are talking about their honest thoughts, feelings and desires, there is hope for the relationship to not only continue, but also to be all that God designed it to be.

Are there pending issues or difficult conversations that you need to have with your spouse? Are you avoiding them out of pride because you want them to say that they are sorry before you do? Would you consider taking the first step? If so, the guidelines above might be helpful.

Our hope and prayer for you is the same as for ourselves, that we would live fully in the wonder and mystery of marriage; that we would not settle for mediocrity by allowing sites of infection to be covered over in our marriage, and that we would remain tender to the Lord’s loving rebukes, and humble to speak and act for the best of our marriage, even if it mean’s saying sorry, again and again.

*Tip on Effective listening. Effective listening that holds your partner’s heart is both a skill and a posture of your heart. The qualities of heart are patience, humility and love (read I Corinthians 13). These can be conjured up into your awareness through a listening prayer like this, “Lord, please help me to hold ____’s heart with your heart. Please help me to hear with your ears and to feel compassion and sorrow as they give to me the gift of their honest feelings. Please restore our relationship even as you teach me and help me to do differently in my words and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The skill of effective listening is to reflect, in your own words, what your partner shares with you. Ask them to pause after every 3-5 sentences so that you have opportunity to hear and reflect accurately, then allow them to continue.

*Jeff and Jill Williams provide the ministry of Marriage Coaching to couple’s globally. They also train couples to coach couples. Contact them for a complimentary consultation if you are interested in being coached or trained as a Marriage Coaching Couple, 301.515.1218,

Copyright 2009, Jeffrey J.Williams, Grace and Truth Relationship Education 20716 Scottsbury Drive, Germantown, Maryland 20876.

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