Love means more than saying “I’m sorry”.
There’s a difference between the ‘I’ centred statement “I’m sorry”, and the other centred statement, “Will you please forgive me?”
The ‘I’ centred statement simply acknowledges a fact. A person might recognise that they behaved poorly, inconsiderately, insensitively, thoughtlessly or carelessly. They might also just want to move on or be done with it without a change of heart. One can say “I’m sorry” and remain self-centred and unrepentant.
“Will you forgive me” on the other hand, means that a person wants to be back in relationship with the other. It requires vulnerability and trust because it risks rejection for the good of the other and for the relationship. Vulnerability and repentance open the door to intimacy. You can grow in love powerfully when you humbly ask forgiveness of your spouse. It is your concern for the one you love that brings about your repentance. Your willingness to be vulnerable demonstrates sincere love and builds the trust between you.
Pride, on the other hand, is always divisive. Asking for forgiveness requires humility, and humility will endear you to each other and draw you into unity.
Essential Aspects of Reconciliation
Some couples are ‘natural’ reconcilers because of their conflict-avoidant personalities or deep formation in virtue. For most couples, some concrete direction is helpful. Here are the steps we use to reconcile.
- Acknowledging the damage. Most times, both you and your spouse will have been wounded. In order for you to be free to release your interior wounds, it is necessary for you to carefully articulate your feelings of hurt. This process requires both a willingness to vulnerably self-reveal by the sharing spouse, and a firm commitment to self-restraint by the listening spouse so that a trusting atmosphere can be established. (See more on listening: here)
- Expressing sorrow. Saying “I’m sorry” and expressing genuine regret is an important statement that reassures your spouse of your sincerity. Expressing your sorrow is a vulnerable sharing of your feelings as you accept responsibility for the damage you have caused.
- Asking for forgiveness is different and more difficult than expressing sorrow. “Please forgive me” is a request that willingly surrenders all power to your injured spouse. It takes great humility to ask for forgiveness. When this is mutually expressed by you and your spouse when there is hurt on both sides, it is a powerfully bonding experience.
- Committing to change not only safeguards against further injury, it is a further indication of your sincerity. For some people, this is essential before they feel capable of trusting again in the relationship.
- Granting forgiveness is a decision by the injured spouse to release all feelings of ill-will toward the other. For many it is accompanied by a distinctive experience of healing, though healing often comes later for some people. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and doesn’t depend on your feelings.
- Rebuilding trust.The rebuilding of trust in your relationship may be immediate or take several months if the offence was substantial. The injured spouse will naturally feel anxious about further hurt and so the responsibility for re-establishing trust requires a sustained commitment by both of you.