Apologizing and extending forgiveness are essential to cultivating a healthy marriage. When a spouse refuses to apologize, it absolutely breaks the other spouse’s heart. It makes them feel disrespected, unloved, and unimportant. Over time, this refusal to admit wrongdoing creates a huge wedge between a husband and wife. So what can a spouse do to encourage his/her spouse to apologize?
It starts with appealing to the heart. Sometimes, a spouse may not apologize because they simply don’t know that what they did was wrong. In these cases, we must go to our spouse and explain how the behavior made us feel. For example, if you discover that your spouse has been keeping a secret from you that they didn’t seem to think was a big deal, you must explain how this made you feel betrayed and deceived. Tell your spouse that even though there was no malicious intent, it still hurt you. It’s important to remember that anytime we end up hurting our spouse’s feelings or hinder their trust in us—even when we didn’t mean to or don’t agree that hurt feelings or loss of trust are warranted—we must be willing and quick to apologize without any excuses. It’s also important to remember that we must be quick to forgive our apologetic spouse and not hold grudges and growing resentment against them. This keeps the peace and shows that we care about how our spouse feels while fostering an open line of communication.
What if a spouse is quick to verbally apologize, but makes no real changes in behavior? To be honest, this is a difficult spot to be in, so it requires some tough love and hard conversations. First of all, we must lovingly, but pointedly, call our spouse out on it. Tell them that you are thankful for the verbal apologies but their lack of effort to change is only hurting your heart and relationship even more. If this kind of behavior becomes perpetual, an effective next step would be attending a crisis marriage retreat and/or seeing a Christian counselor on a regular basis. Sometimes the spouse who won’t make changes is caught in a stronghold or sin that cannot be stopped on their own. Things like addiction, inappropriate relationships, gambling, and other secret-led lifestyles can be gripping and transform someone into an unabashedly prideful and hateful person. And, this can certainly wreak havoc in a marriage. Therefore, it is extremely important for the healthy person to get their spouse the help they need to get well.
In the meantime, keep praying for your spouse. God is with you and for you. He sees your hurting heart and He longs for your spouse to make things right just as much if not more than you do. Don’t give up. Keep having those hard conversations with your spouse in the most loving way you can, and resist arguing about it. Get the help that you both need and please know that God loves you and has an amazing plan for your life. He uses all struggles—even difficult marital ones—for our good and His glory. He is our ever-present help in time of need, and He WILL get you both through this and bring peace, joy, and understanding to your marriage.