Especially in marriage, people often think an apology is enough. Our society has grown more fascinated with forcing apologies from people than a North Vietnamese Prison warden. Most of the time these are mechanically given, or forced from people by direct threat or coercion. They are not sincere and generally carry little weight. Even when the apology is sincere, it alone carries little weight. In fact, thanks to the institution of forced apologies in society – insincerity has become the hallmark of the ubiquitous “I’m sorry” – we say it from wrote because we fear retaliation or severe repercussions if we do not.
As with James 2:20 in the bible, which speaks of faith not being present without works – what of repentance. True repentance, like true faith, is evident in works. When the heart is changed the actions follow. True repentance, it comes in two distinct stages. The first stage is when we are truly sorry for our actions primarily because we fear just punishments or reactions, and the second is when we are truly repentant for our actions because we have separated ourselves from our God and those offended through them.
The next time you apologize to your spouse, think about whether you are really sorry and why. I do not mean give it a glancing thought, but rather dwell on it for a bit and chew it over. Especially be mindful of anger if you feel coerced into the apology, as it can cause you to separate further from your spouse – and from God. Now the part you really don’t want to hear, but need to. The problem is yours. There is a difference between ownership and culpability, make that distinction accurately. Though the issue may not be your fault, as the husband you must make it your responsibility and lead by example and resolve it.
Realize that you can only change yourself, not your spouse. Both of you are obligated to do everything possible to serve the needs of the other. For many of us, that means effecting major changes in our thoughts, words, and actions – especially when we have done something to make our spouses feel an apology is necessary. It is the changes we make to correct the separation both from our spouses and God that are the true fruits of repentance and only they can provide the comfort of true reconciliation.
Oftentimes I use such situations to remind myself that I am a bound servant of God and my wife, and I work very hard to not let my mind attempt to rationalize that she is my servant too. You cannot expect to control someone and bond closely with them in true love. True love is joyful service and willing submission – not arrogance, exertion of power, control, and/or feelings worn on sleeves. Realize that the next time an apology comes up and understand that “I’m sorry” is the beginning of the process, not the end. Evaluate why offense was taken and how you can avoid such conflict in the future. Make sure that your words are backed up by thought, word, and deed. If you feel the need to rationalize, then remember that your wife cannot be expected to follow where you do not lead.