How to Make Up When Your Spouse is Still Upset

How to Get Things Back Without Making Them Worse

Have you ever tried to apologize, but ended up in a much bigger fight? You wanted to say you were sorry, but then you said something that really set your partner off?

How to apologize to your spouse

Admitting when you’re wrong is hard. Knowing when, and especially how, to apologize earns you appreciation and respect. On the other hand, doing it wrong consistently makes you look like a jerk. It builds resentment, and soon, your partner will probably start behaving the same way. Therefore, this post is not about preventing you from messing things up, but what you can do about it afterwards.

You Will Screw Up

The reality is that even with all of your best intentions, you will screw things up.

That’s normal because we are human beings and not robots. We make mistakes. In any relationship that’s alive and kicking, this is happening.

A mistake doesn’t even have to be a product of a disagreement. It may be a harmless comment you made, not thinking much about it. And yet, your partner’s expression changed instantly, and you knew you had blown it.

I’m Sorry is Not Enough

Most of us were not taught how to apologize properly when we were younger. I know I wasn’t. When we were at school, the teacher would force two kids to apologize, only for the two to stare at the floor and mumble, “Sorry.” They didn’t really mean it. As you’ll learn in this post, “I’m sorry” is only one part of an apology done the right way. But not the most important part.

Give an Apology That Makes a Difference

1. Cool down

As a rule, only apologize when BOTH of you are calm, preferably with some time away from the event.

2. Think about what happened

The more objectively you can think of what really happened, the more chance you have to apologize properly. Here’s a couple of questions to answer to yourself:

  • How was I feeling at the time?
  • Was I feeling stress? Why?
  • What went on in my mind?
  • Which concerns did I have?
  • What piece of information did I not have at the time?
  • What piece of information did I have, but my spouse didn’t, and couldn’t have at the time?
  • What did I do that triggered my spouse?
  • What did I learn from this?
  • How could I have reacted differently?
  • What will I do the next time a similar event occurs?
  • How do I wish my spouse would help me? (this is only a wish, but you don’t have control over this)

3. Approach softly

Tell your partner you would like to apologize, and ask if now is an appropriate time.

“I would like to apologize for __________, if this is a good time?”

4. Express regret

Focus on what was your part, and leave the rest to your spouse. It happens all too quickly that we start thinking “poor me, if they would do this or that, then everything would be fine.” If you’re sending this kind of message to your partner, don’t expect a welcome party.

  • No: “I am sorry that you have gotten mad at me.” (message: “I still don’t understand why I need to apologize. But okay, I’m sorry… for whatever the reason.”)
  • A Big No: “Sorry I hurt your feelings, but next time you could be more sensitive to me, too.”
  • Yes: “I am sorry that I… (reacted, said,…)”

Avoid sentences that start with you. Talk about yourself. At all costs avoid using buts. In that sense, apologizing is very similar to approaching to your spouse mindfully, which we covered in depth here.

5. Claim responsibility

Take a deep breath and claim responsibility for your actions.

  • “As much as I hate to admit it, I am responsible for …”
  • “I am angry at myself for …(reacting like that, saying things).”

6. Acknowledge their feelings

  • “I can’t believe I reacted that way. You must have felt…”
  • “I know I have hurt your feelings because…and I’m sorry for that.”

Use touch, a hug. Look your partner in the eyes. This goes a long way.

7. Confirm it was unintentional

“I really didn’t mean to…. (hurt you).”

It’s important to say it out loud even though you know, and your spouse may know, that you really didn’t mean to hurt them. Nevertheless, words are powerful. Sometimes, they just need to be said aloud.

8. Explain the circumstances

Explain what happened, and why you think it happened. Use your thoughts from the “Think about what happened” step.

  • Describe how, in your eyes, things happened and what you think was your trigger to react as you did.
  • Important! Talk about you. Talk about your feelings.
  • Describe concerns that you’ve had that you think your spouse may not have been aware of at the time.
  • Out loud, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledge that they couldn’t have known some things that went on in your mind at the time.

9. Express your desire to change your behavior

Explain to your partner what you learned from this and how you intend to react next time. This shows the other person that you have put some thought into it. You can also invite them to participate with their suggestions.

“I keep losing my temper and I know that’s not right. I don’t want to repeat this. Can you think of anything that could help make sure this doesn’t happen?”

10. Ask for forgiveness

“Will you please forgive me?”

You’ll be Fine as Long as You Show That You Care

Okay. Now, you may think that’s an awful lot of things to keep in your mind.

1. Cool down
2. Think about what happened
3. Approach softly
4. Express regret
5. Claim responsibility
6. Acknowledge their feelings
7. Confirm it was unintentional
8. Explain the circumstances
9. Express your desire to change your behavior
10. Ask for forgiveness

My answer is, just try it.

Even if you skip a step or two, your new way of apologizing is going to be perceived as much more thoughtful than just “I’m sorry.”

When you get good at it, you may want to combine certain steps and do it a quicker way. That’s fine, as long as long as you can demonstrate that you truly care.

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that it’s not only good to know, but also how to receive one. If your spouse has apologized to you, you can use the opportunity to reflect on your part too. It’s a way of soothing each other after an unpleasant event and it goes a long way. It brings you closer even though you had a clash just recently.

Lastly, what if your spouse is not familiar with this way of apologizing (yet)? Don’t worry. Just apologize in this new way and they will learn it from you.

I guarantee that you will not be rejected for apologizing mindfully.

You really don’t have anything to lose, but you do have a lot to gain.

Your Turn

Think back to the last time you had an incident. Regardless of whose fault it may have been, for the next exercise, take a piece of paper and craft an apology for your part. Read it out loud. How does it feel?

QUESTION: If you were the one to hear such mindful apology, how would you react? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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