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According to Patricia Doris, a psychologist based in London, Ont., keeping your apology simple and sincere is the best policy. She shares some tips on how to do just that.
1. Overcome feelings of embarrassment
Approaching your spouse and owning up to your mistake takes courage. Apologizing puts you in a vulnerable place, which can make it easy to put off addressing the topic. Don't let feelings of embarrassment stop you from getting something off your chest.
"When we are embarrassed we want nothing more than to forget or avoid the cause of our embarrassment," says Doris. "Having to apologize means potentially opening the door for a conversation about the embarrassing topic. It's important to recognize that, regardless of how embarrassing a situation might be, avoidance is not going to make it go away."
"The most effective way to get past an embarrassing issue is to repair whatever damage is done and move on," she explains.
2. Be honest and speak from your heart
If you are genuinely sorry, allow your feelings to show by speaking your mind. If you think too much about what your spouse wants to hear, your apology won't be as honest.
"The most effective apologies are the ones where the recipient understands and believes the message," says Doris. "The more complex, vague or subtle an apology is, the more likely the recipient will either misunderstand or not believe the person that is apologizing."
Keep it simple and be honest. It might be a difficult conversation to have, but as long as you be yourself, that honesty should come naturally.
3. Adopt positive body language
Even before you speak, your body language will say a lot. Avoid defensive body language such as crossed arms and tense shoulders, and avoid fidgeting, which will make you appear distracted.
Making eye contact will especially go a long way. "There's a reason for the old saying 'The eyes are windows to the soul'" says Doris. "Eye gazing for humans is an important and primal form of connection, so be brave and look the person in the eyes when you offer your apology."
This might be especially difficult if you're feeling insecure, but that eye contact will let your spouse know that you mean what you're saying.
4. Don't get defensive
The point of your apology is to repair the issue, not open up another argument. Try to resist the urge to justify your actions.
"When apologizing, we often start defending ourselves at the same time," says Doris. "An effective apology does not follow with ‘but.' For example, 'I'm sorry, but you shouldn't have said this or that.'"
"As tempting as it is to explain yourself, you will be much more effective at repairing your relationship -- which is the point of the apology in the first place -- by letting the apology stand without all the hedging and blaming," she explains.
5. Come up with a plan to get past the issue
Your apology will certainly help your marriage continue growing in the best way it can, but be aware that it won't "cancel out" your action.
"Forgiveness does not mean forgetting," says Doris. "After an apology, we often need to engage in activities or interactions designed to restore positivity and trust in a relationship."
After you apologize, discuss some ways you and your spouse can move past the issue to continue on to your best future together. Ask your partner what he or she needs from you and come up with a plan. It may be something as simple as agreeing to speak more regularly about your feelings.
We all make mistakes. Handling them properly may be difficult, but it's a way of honouring your marriage and ensuring that you and your spouse have a healthy future together.
"I always encourage people to think of apologizing as excellent practice in developing a crucial skill so they can successfully maintain and repair their relationships," says Doris.
Your apology will likely teach you a lot about both yourself and your partner, which will give you the tools to build an even better relationship together.