Dear Mark and Jill,
I read your Marriage Monday blog, “Don’t Go Relivin’ What You Have Forgiven” and it really spoke to me. It is what I do.
The one point that you made, that I would love to know your thoughts on is this: how do I know if things are resolved or not? We have been through a lot of hurt caused by many things and I have talked about needing resolution, but I really do not know what that looks like. How did you feel like you were in a place where it was “settled” and you could truly move forward and look forward as opposed to looking back?”
Good question! We thought we’d tackle this in today’s Marriage Monday.
Mark says: In my many years of pastoral counseling, one thing I noticed is how often couples sweep conflict away with a brisk, “I’m sorry.”
The problem is “I’m sorry” is only a half apology.
A full apology is “I’m sorry. I know ____________ (the action you did) hurt you because____________ (specify the pain it caused). Will you please forgive me?”
Jill says: I’ve come to think of it in a picture. If I hurt Mark, it’s as if I leave him wounded and bleeding. If I just say “I’m sorry,” and expect it to bring healing, it will be like putting a band aid on a wound that is gaping open and in need of stitches.
If you start with “I’m sorry,” then communicate your spouse the hurt you actually caused him/her, and then ask for forgiveness, you are actually beginning to bandage up the wounds and to help bring about healing. How so? There are two very important parts to this full apology:
#1: The communication of the pain that was caused. If we can actually communicate the pain we caused, this increases our spouse’s trust that we are paying attention to the way our actions affect him/her.
#2: The request for forgiveness. This requires the offended spouse to make a decision. Of course, it’s much easier to make the decision of forgiveness when you truly feel understood and cared for by the specific communication of the pain that was caused.
Mark says: Here’s a real life example of something I’ve communicated to Jill, “I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you when you communicated that to me. I know when I do that it causes you to not feel valued. Will you please forgive me?
Jill says: Here’s a real life example of something I’ve communicated to Mark, “I’m sorry that I parented you in that moment. I know that makes you feel disrespected. Will you please forgive me?
Mark says: Once the offended spouse can choose forgiveness, conflict closure or a sense of feeling resolve is experienced.
Now let’s look at this from a birds eye view of healing big infractions of trust, like infidelity, deception, or some other trust-breaking activity.
Jill says: When we were healing from Mark’s affair, there were so many pain points that his deception caused that it required many full apologies over the course of time. As I said in the Today’s Christian Woman article on rebuilding trust, “As hard as it is for me to share about my husband’s infidelity, it’s my privilege to share how hard he worked to reestablish his integrity in our relationship.”
We’d drive by a hotel where I knew they met, and I’d say, “It’s hard for me to drive by this place.” He would say, “I’m so sorry, Jill. I know that I betrayed you and that hurt you deeply. I’m sorry for the pain I caused. I truly ask for your forgiveness.” Forgiveness on my part would follow.
However, we might drive by that same hotel again the following week. He’d reach over and grab my hand and say, “I know driving by this is hard. I’m believing there will be a day that it won’t be so painful. I commit to you that I will never, ever betray you again.”
He wasn’t “bringing it up again” and keeping me stirred up negatively. He was acknowledging the pain he knew existed and reassuring me of his commitment. That was trust building!
Now, over three years later, we drive by that hotel quite often. Although I often do think about how it’s a part of our story, I don’t experience the pain I did in those early days and months.
Mark says: Another piece of bringing closure to a hurt is also a concept called “reframing.” We shared about this two years ago as we approached the one year anniversary of the weekend Mark left. Neither one of us wanted that weekend to always have a dark cloud over it so we decided to “reframe” it in a positive way. We did a weekend getaway to a cabin near Starved Rock State Park about an hour from our house. Do you know that the second anniversary of that date came and went without either one of us thinking about the implication of that date?
I also did some reframing in how I referred to myself. In the early months after I recommitted and returned home, Jill would communicate about worry or fears. One day I said to her, “Jilly, that is your old husband. He was a jerk. This is your new husband, who is committed to never betray your trust again.” This was a paraphrase of Ephesians 4:22-24. It helped me reaffirm my commitment to both God and Jill and helped Jill believe in the possibility of a different future.
Jill says: After many full apologies and some intentional reframing, in time, we were fully looking forward with only the occasional need to look back.
No matter whether you are looking to resolve those pesky daily conflicts that never seem to be resolved or a bigger hurt in your marriage. With intentionality and humility, it is possible to “be done with it” and move on.
What about you? Is it time to offer a full apology to help your spouse trust your heart and heal? Do you have something that needs to be reframed so you can move forward?