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Forgiveness is vital in marriage. The key is to seek an apology after we truly understand our spouse’s heart. Here’s a four-part process to a sincere apology.

The final step in L.U.V.E. talk is to make an apology.

Some people struggle to apologize because of pride and selfishness. For others, never being wrong gives power and moral superiority, or at least the illusion of it. Some individuals can’t forgive because they don’t want their spouse to forget how much they were hurt. It’s like they’re thinking, If I forgive you, you’ll forget how much you hurt me, and I’ll get wounded again.

I was guilty of another issue. My problem was that I got to a place in our marriage where I would instantly offer an apology to my wife, Erin, the moment we got into an argument. That’s a good thing, you might be thinking. In some ways, you’re right. A heartfelt apology based on a deep understanding of how you hurt or frustrated your spouse is a great thing. However, that’s not at all what I was doing. I became great at using the words I’m sorry to manipulate my wife.

I also learned pretty quickly in my marriage that when Erin was upset or frustrated with me, if I simply told her that I was sorry, the conflict would go away. The problem was that I didn’t feel convicted or remorseful about what I had done. I was simply trying to make the uncomfortable situation or the guilty feelings disappear. But my seemingly brilliant strategy never brought Erin and me into the levels of deep intimacy that I really wanted. It just put an end to the awkwardness or unpleasantness of conflict. I was trading peace for real intimacy.

Forgiveness is vital in marriage. The key is that we need to seek an apology after we truly understand our spouse’s heart. This is why seeking forgiveness is the final step in the journey toward intimacy.

Four parts of an apology

The process of a healing apology is made up of four simple statements. Consider how powerful these 12 words can be in helping reach the deepest level of intimacy:

“I was wrong.” These first three words acknowledge that your words or actions hurt your spouse, and they validate his or her pain.

“I am sorry.” These next three words go beyond confession and give you the opportunity to explain that you understand how much you hurt your spouse, and you feel terrible about it. The empathy allows you to feel the remorse necessary for the next statement.

“Please forgive me.” These words inform your spouse that you accept responsibility for your actions and that you want to see your relationship reconciled. You are not demanding anything; instead, you are inviting your spouse to forgive you and to restore the intimacy and connection that was broken. Requesting forgiveness also displays humility from the offender because you have to admit that you have been wrong and you are willing to make things right.

“I love you!” The final three words affirm your love and commitment to your spouse. They say that your love isn’t dependent on whether your spouse forgives you. Instead, you are saying that your love is unconditional and that your heart is fully open.

Conflicts, arguments and offenses are unavoidable, but the inability to forgive can become a person’s personal prison. To remain in a loving relationship, you must grasp the idea that forgiveness is essential.

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.

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