Heartfelt apologies are an essential ingredient of a strong, healthy marriage. Accepting that you and your partner do the best you can helps you be more understanding. When you acknowledge your flaws, it means that you can be vulnerable with your partner rather than allowing your fear of rejection or failure to overwhelm you or lead to resentment. Sometimes, forgiveness is key to save a marriage.
The Story of Tanya and Michael
Tanya, 53, had what she described as a midlife crisis two years ago. During that time, she betrayed her husband Michael, 55, by having an emotional affair with a younger man, Kurt, age 44. Tanya and Kurt worked together at the same start-up tech company and gradually became close while eating lunch together and sharing their marital problems with one another.
Tanya reflects, “It was innocent enough in the beginning because we had a lot in common at work and we were both unhappy in our marriages. Even though we never had sex, I know now it was wrong because we became emotionally close and I turned away from Michael for about a year. Our two kids noticed we were arguing a lot and sadly we stopped having sex and spending time together.”
“One day, I was walking through our kitchen and I saw several photos of Kurt on Tanya’s iPad. He was smiling and posing suggestively. I knew who he was because I met him at their holiday party,” Michael said. “When I asked Tanya about it, she admitted that she had become close to Kurt and that it was becoming more than just friendship.”
While attending a couples counseling session, and learning about the breach of trust between Tanya and Michael, I explained to them that keeping a secret about having an emotional affair is the same as lying. It can erode trust in a marriage. During our sessions, I informed this couple that honesty is essential to a trusting relationship and that lying by omission, or keeping a secret, is dishonest.
Tanya quickly realized that she needed to apologize to Michael to regain his trust; her emotional affair with Kurt was destroying their marriage. She also admitted that she was self-sabotaging because she loves Michael and hopes to regain his trust.
How Do I Apologize?
First, be sure not to make excuses such as “I had an affair because you neglected me.” Taking responsibility for the hurt you have caused your partner is essential. You might say, “I accept responsibility for my actions and I’m sorry that I’ve caused you pain.” Be specific about what you did. For example, Tanya said, “I’m so sorry that my emotional affair caused you to feel betrayed.”
Next, identify two reasons why you feel sorry for the hurt you caused your partner. Let them know one specific thing you feel sorry about such as “I love you and feel terrible that I had an emotional affair that put our marriage at risk.”
Lastly, be sure to tell your partner that your actions were wrong and that you will not repeat them. Saying, “I will never allow myself to have another emotional affair because our marriage means so much to me,” is another step to solve the issue.
It’s great that you seek forgiveness to save your marriage, but if you don’t apologize with sincerity, there could be a chance your partner will not accept your apology.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Your Partner is “Off the Hook”
Granting your partner forgiveness to save the marriage doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. It doesn’t mean you approve of their actions either. But by showing compassion towards your partner when you feel they’ve wronged you, you let go of your anger, bitterness, and resentment.
In doing so, you give negative feelings less power over you. You are letting him or her know your relationship matters and you’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
And, by asking for forgiveness, you show that you’re aware when your actions or words have been hurtful.
Tanya and Michael’s story is a reminder of an important lesson: the greatest gift you can give your partner is to love them enough to apologize and grant them forgiveness. A healthy, long-lasting marriage is within your reach if you can risk being vulnerable; it’s the price you pay for intimacy.
Being generous with saying you’re sorry will allow you and your partner to move beyond daily setbacks and overcome the corrosive effects of breaches of trust as well as everyday hurts and disappointments.
Following the steps below will guide you in your journey towards “unlearning” toxic patterns of relating and moving on to a place of love and healing in your marriage!
5 Steps to Take to Practice Forgiveness to Save a Marriage
- Accept that you and your partner will make mistakes and it is a given that you will need to recover from them by apologizing and granting forgiveness.
- Let go of “The blame game” which promotes the idea that someone has to be blamed for a miscommunication, argument, or a setback in your marriage.
- Adopt a mindset of learning from your mistakes and forgiving your partner without judgment, disrespect, or malice.
- Be vulnerable as you share your innermost thoughts and feelings when asking for forgiveness, even if your hurtful words or actions were not intentional.
- Give yourself time to practice being a more forgiving person. It may feel unnatural if you aren’t accustomed to it, but you’ll feel more comfortable over time and have a healthier marriage.
Apologizing and granting forgiveness will allow you and your partner to move out of the role of the victim and stop letting wounds from the past fester. Accept that we are all imperfect and remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Be receptive to learning effective ways to repair hurt feelings and let go of grudges.
The story of Tanya and Michael emphasizes, if you want a better marriage, start by accepting your partner for who they are. Listen to them with a generous heart, and communicate your own needs in a loving, respectful way.
Instead of trying to change them, be the change you want to see in your relationship. And be sure to practice forgiveness as you grow stronger in your commitment to cherish each other every single day!