Do you want to see an immediate positive change in the dynamics of your relationship? Read on…
Have you ever wondered how the early and joyful days of marriage, times filled with hope and anticipation for the future, often turn into a death march toward some sad finish line filled with misery and regret?
Numberless books and articles have been written about destructive marriage patterns and advice on how to break out of them. In our next two newsletters I will boil many of those harmful patterns down to two related things that, if turned around, can help change the entire dynamic of your relationship TODAY.
First we must accept as a given that in any relationship between two fallible humans both partners are going to make mistakes and will hurt one another. Obviously we want to keep those mistakes to a minimum, but we will never fully eliminate them. In fact, in our experience, great relationships are not defined by the absence of mistakes, but by the willingness and ability to work through them, and especially the willingness and ability to seek and offer forgiveness.
If a family cannot consistently deal with the inevitable mistakes and failures we all experience, the debris and toxic air will eventually grow to a point that the family is crushed and poisoned. Thus the absolute requirement that we all learn to repent and forgive.
How quickly we can heal wounds and calm troubled waters by recognizing our mistakes, feeling regret for them, and offering a heartfelt apology to those whom we have offended. While a quick “I’m sorry” might suffice if you carelessly bump into your partner coming out of the bathroom, a failure to keep a promise or deliver on one of your roles and responsibilities might take more than a couple of words. We might need to take verbal accountability as we say something like, “I know I promised that I would come home early and help clean the garage today. It wasn’t right that I didn’t do it and I apologize.”
Please note the absence of excuses and justification in that apology. While there sometimes might need to be some explanation in an apology, never allow that explanation to be an excuse. When we have made a promise to a loved one, only the most dire of circumstances should impede us from delivering on it.
There may be need in some particularly hurtful circumstances to apologize more than once. In the above example we might later on at bedtime say to our partner, “I still feel badly I did not follow through on my promise. I know it probably caused problems with your schedule and what you hoped to get done today.”
There might be times when you are just a part of the problem or mistake, with your partner sharing in the error. Once again, you can introduce peace and healing as you choose to be the first to take accountability. You might say something like, “Wow, I apologize for my part in putting us so far behind schedule. I really lost track of time.” Your partner might or might not elect to take their share of accountability and it will be counterproductive if you demand that they do.
Most often as you take accountability it will help your partner to feel safe enough to take their own, but basing your willingness to seek forgiveness on your partner’s reciprocating will often lead the relationship into even shakier ground. It has been pointed out that ultimately we can only clean up our own side of the street, not our partner’s. But keeping our side clean will inspire our partner to maintain their’s as well.
The Key is Humility
What is the key to an apology and seeking of forgiveness? Humility. Humility has many components, but in a relationship it means possessing an openness and willingness to recognize and admit when we are wrong or have made a mistake. It is the knowledge that we don’t have all the answers and are open to learning. And certainly this means that we will unilaterally seek forgiveness and do our best to correct our mistakes.
When our couples become embroiled in attempts to justify their negative actions or shift their share of the accountability, we sometimes ask them, “Would you rather be right or happy?” They ruefully answer that happiness is their goal and once again find humility and soon discover the win/win that is always awaiting couples who conquer the mountain of pride.
Sometimes when a couple is struggling and has built up significant resentment it can feel difficult to be the one to take the initiative and admit your own accountability and apologize. But I promise that the fruits of that effort will be among the sweetest you have ever tasted.
Next time we will talk about how to forgive.