Restoring Relationships with Good Apologies | Focus on the Family Australia
Restoring Relationships with Good Apologies
By Ted Cunningham
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We all deal with difficult relationships. When a relationship is strained we need to find the words that bring healing, not strife and more destruction. I find that “I am sorry” are three of the most powerful words we use to restore relationships in ministry. Not “Sorry,” but the complete “I am sorry.” If you want to go the extra mile, follow up with, “Will you forgive me?”

If relationships are going to be restored, apologies need to be given and received.
Crafting an apology takes time and thought. The Bible says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. . . . Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 16:24; 12:18).

In thinking this through, it’s important to focus on feelings instead of issues. With practice, you can become a great wordsmith and reach the stage where your words will be like honeycomb and bring healing and restoration. You will be amazed at how quickly taking ownership over an issue or character defect can melt the heart of the person you offended. Here are a few fresh ways to take responsibility within your apology:

  • “You deserve a medal just living with me.”
  • “You’re way too valuable to treat like this.”
  • “I was so wrong to say those things to you.”
  • “I am going to let my actions say that I am sorry.”
  • “Will you forgive me?”
  • “I know why I just did that, and it was wrong.”
  • “It is my fault.”
  • “I take 100-percent responsibility for how bad that conversation just went.”
  • “This is my issue and something I need to work on.”
  • “That is a character defect in me, and I will ask God to help me with it.”

Think about this apology: “I’m sorry you were hurt.” What do these words mean? Are you saying the person shouldn’t have been hurt? Are you saying their hurt wasn’t really justified? Someone can read a lot of things into those reckless words. Or consider this one: “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Those words express no ownership of the part you played in your spouse’s pain. The words are so vague that your spouse may wonder what you mean. Great apologies start by recognizing your offending words and actions.

Love cares for others unconditionally. Let God give you His love as you seek Him day and night. Become the branch that stays grafted to the Vine and wait for His love to flow into and out of you. You’ll catch yourself feeling grieved when others hurt because of your actions.

As I practice this, I find that I am sensitive when I cause pain to others. I do not want others to feel pain because of my words and actions, period. If they are hurt because of me, I want to do my part to repair the wrong.

Ask the offended person to give you examples of a well-crafted apology and a reckless apology. Ask what words or phrases come across as insincere to him or her. You might be surprised at what you discover! Words are like toothpaste squeezed from the tube: You can never put them back inside your mouth once they are spoken. So become a great wordsmith and allow your words to be sweet like honeycomb to your spouse.

Also, remember that less is more.

Have you ever had someone apologize and then go historical on you? They bring up issues and events from ten months or even ten years ago. By the end of the apology, you’re more upset than when the person began. During those encounters, you have the opportunity to extend grace and appreciate the fact that he or she made an effort. You also have an opportunity to learn from the other person’s mistake.

A well-crafted apology is short and to the point. You don’t need to offer a dissertation on the situation. Apologize, state the offense, and take ownership of the hurt you’ve caused. Let the offended individual know that you never meant to push his or her buttons in that way. The Bible advises, “Fire goes out for lack of fuel” (Prov. 26:20, NLT). A concise, well-crafted apology doesn’t add fuel to the fire and brings a quick end to dispute.

Finally, apologize in person.

Unless extreme circumstances prevent it, always apologize face-to-face. Neither e-mail nor handwritten letters come close to an in-person apology. If you have to send a letter or an e-mail to someone, make sure that some other trusted person reads it before you send it out. Let them be a second and third set of eyes to ensure that your words are coming from a place of grace, love, and restoration. Make sure the words you’re communicating are like honeycomb, not like a sword that pierces the soul.

You need to apologize with your facial expression and body language as much, if not more, than with your words. I’ve messed up in this area countless times. I now have a steadfast rule about confronting or apologizing in written form: If at all possible, I just don’t do it. I try never to send out an e-mail to anyone when I have something important to say—especially if I’m seeking forgiveness—but there are times when it’s unavoidable. When it can’t be helped, I always have my wife read the apology before I send it out, and sometimes another trusted friend or family member.

How do you know when an apology is received? It may take some time to process, but ultimately the heartfelt effort is the key. Our words may get jumbled up, but when you are face to face, you can read the heart. We want hearts that pursue reconciliation and healthy relationships.

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