When problems have caused a rift in your marriage, when disconnection or disagreements have gotten out of control, and you’ve done or said something truly hurtful…

It can be extremely difficult to find forgiveness and move forward.

One of the largest barriers to forgiveness, though, is forming and offering an effective apology. Even when people are truly sorry for their actions, they may not articulate it very well, or be able to show their spouse how much they regret the behavior.

Because it can be so difficult, we’ve broken down an effective apology into 7 steps:

1. Figure Out What Happened

You have to know what you did wrong – exactly. Get the facts in order. Understand precisely what you did and how it made your spouse feel. You can’t apologize for something you don’t fully understand.

2. Explore Why

Now that you know what happened, figure out why it happened. Even if there are factors outside your control, accept that you were susceptible to them. Getting to the bottom of why helps you truly understand the nature of your actions, the factors that lead to them, and how to avoid it in the future. Remember, though, there’s a difference between explanation and excuse – finding a “why” doesn’t mean pointing fingers.

3. Express Regret

Tone, body language, and plenty of other things beyond the word “sorry” have an impact on your apology. Just brushing off a problem with a quick “I’m sorry” is a far cry from looking your spouse in the eye and genuinely expressing your apologies – and stating specifically what you’re sorry for. Include some of the “what” and “why” mentioned above.

Here are some simple steps to help your spouse forgive you.

Here are some simple steps to help your spouse forgive you.

4. Admit and Accept Responsibility

You have to accept and own what you’ve done. Statements like “I’m sorry you feel that way” do little but shift blame toward your spouse. Don’t look for excuses or shift the focus on to something else. If you made a mistake, admit it. Even if you didn’t intentionally hurt your spouse, you can still apologize for upsetting them and take responsibility for the behavior that caused the problem.

5. Don’t Repeat The Behavior

While there are no 100% guarantees for the future, making a concerted effort (and giving your word) to do your best to never repeat the problematic behavior goes a long way toward forgiveness. By exploring your “why,” you probably have a good idea of what lead to the problems in the first place, and you’re now prepared to see when those factors are stacking up again – and you can use that ability to avoid falling into hurtful actions again.

An apology is useless if you just turn around and repeat the behavior.

6. Make Peace

Before you can get to a place of forgiveness, it’s important to make amends as best you can. Ask your spouse what can be done to “make things right.” It all depends on the issue, of course, and some are much larger than others, but you might be able to “make up for” your errors with gestures of kindness, or sometimes by making personal changes or seeking extra help.

This might be anything from agreeing to make dinner for the rest of the week to enrolling in anger management classes. Whatever it is, be open to smoothing things out and showing your commitment to apologizing.

7. Ask For Forgiveness

Last but not least, ask to be forgiven! This will likely take some courage, but if you really want to get over the hump, it’s ok be direct – and ask if you can be forgiven for whatever problems you’ve caused. No one owes you forgiveness, and while it may come without asking, being humble and vulnerable enough to admit your mistakes and show how much being forgiven means to you will show your spouse that you’re serious about atoning for your mistakes.

Moving past problems and finding forgiveness can take time. It can be a tense process that takes several stages, or even several tries. If apologizing to your spouse and being forgiven for your errors is truly important to you, be humble and put in the time and effort required to make it right!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!

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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com