Have you ever experienced this in your marriage?

You’re mad at your spouse for something they did or said. You’re not angry, just upset, and a simple apology would probably make the whole thing go away. So when it comes up in the next conversation you are fully prepared to accept an apology and move on, except your spouse does the only thing worse than not apologizing, they say “I’m sorry IF…” 

Let me give you some free marriage advice, “I’m sorry IF” is not an apology it’s an accusation. “IF” apologies are what someone does when they aren’t actually sorry but know they need to apologize, even though they don’t think they should have to apologize.

“I’m sorry IF you feel that way.” News Flash: I do feel that way. Whether it’s right or wrong, I’m overreacting, or completely insane, even if I shouldn’t feel the way that I feel, it’s the way I feel.

If there is one word that has the potential to revolutionize your marriage, it’s “IF.” Stop saying it when you apologize! It’s condescending and belittling. In essence, it means, “you’re wrong for feeling this way, but if it makes you feel better than I apologize.”

If you’re anything like my wife and me, you end up fighting more about the fight than what originally started the fight, to begin with. I’m convinced the way we fight does more damage than all of our mistakes combined. What if you thought about your fights like this; imagine every time you fight with your spouse you get to choose a weapon to use (not an actual weapon, this is just a metaphor.) Some people like to use the machine gun and just spray hateful comments at rapid fire. Some people like to use a grenade and just explode with rage while others like to use booby traps. They will let you trap yourself and set you up to lose. Every hurtful word, dig, and insult is never forgotten. It’s remembered and stored away in our trash pile of insecurity we’ve stored from every person we’ve ever cared about who said something hurtful to us.

What if you made the intentional choice, next time you fight with your spouse to not pick up a weapon? What if, instead, your goal was to come out of the fight without wounding your spouse? I believe when I say “I love you” to someone I am also saying, “I will never intentionally hurt you.” Don’t misunderstand; I will hurt them, but never on purpose. Each time I load another figurative bullet in my gun about their laziness, body, or habits I’m perpetuating a cycle of hurt.

Try This

The next time you know you’re headed into a fight with your spouse make it your goal to convey why you’re upset without hurting them. My wife and I have accomplished this in our marriage by using one phrase, “I’m frustrated.” When either of us starts a conversation with “I’m frustrated,” the other person knows that they need to stop whatever they are doing and focus, because their spouse is feeling upset, and they want to communicate what made them upset. No yelling, no rage, just frustration. Starting this way, after 12 years, has allowed us to tackle tough conversations with composure because it sets a tone of respect. Whoever is frustrated gets to talk until they have said everything they need to say. Then the guilty party apologizes (well most of the time… my wife doesn’t like to apologize as quickly as I do). If they feel they need to defend themselves, they do, but the purpose of the conversation is to make sure the person who is frustrated gets to communicate their frustration. It’s like letting steam out of the tea kettle as opposed to being a pressure cooker that explodes leaving an unexpected mess in its wake. I honestly can’t think of the last yelling, knock down drag out fight my wife and I have had. It’s been years because we’ve decided it’s ok for each other to be frustrated and when you feel frustrated you get to talk about it. We’ve probably had 300 little arguments since our last big fight, because when you only have to bring up taking out of the trash instead of every mistake made in the past six months, it makes for shorter, calmer conflict.

How could your marriage change if you and your spouse chose not to be hurtful, on purpose?

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