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Tool #4 to Rebuild Trust in Your Marriage: Make Amends

By Samuel Rainey

First posted on

Note from Dennis: This post is part of a six-part series by my son, Samuel, on rebuilding trust in marriage. Samuel is a professional counselor and, with his wife Stephanie, is part of the speaker team for FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. This series offers great help from a man who has helped many couples in their marriage. 

by Samuel Rainey

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." ~ 1 John 1:9

Early in my marriage I was not very considerate of Stephanie with my time management. For me, time was flexible. When we had young kids, I knew that she needed me home after work around 5 p.m. That was the most difficult part of the day at home with kids and dinner time.

You also need to know that I am a master at procrastination. In college, I wore it as a badge of honor that I could start an essay an hour before it was due and somehow make a decent grade.

Unfortunately, I brought this habit of procrastination into marriage and it began eroding Stephanie’s trust in me. I got into the habit of underestimating the amount of time it took to wrap up my workday and get home. My office was only 12 minutes away from home and I believed I could work until 4:45 and make it home on time. But that left no margin.

Towards the end of the workday, I would often text or call Stephanie that I would be home in 15 minutes, and then show up 20-25 minutes later. I had every intention of getting home in 15 minutes, but didn’t do what was necessary to make sure this happened. Over time, I continued to over-promise and under-deliver. This broke her trust and impacted how well she felt cared for by me.

When I was late, I would further complicate things by defending my lateness. I never intended to be late, so why be mad at me for something that was an accident? By defending myself, I was dismissive of her feelings.

One of the problems for me in being late was that I too quickly apologized for my actions. I did not allow Stephanie the time or space to let me know how painful it was for her that I was habitually late.

The turning point for me and my lateness was when she told me that she didn’t want any more apologies. Through tears she shared with me that when I am late, she gets really afraid that I have been in some kind of car accident, and that I’m not okay. At that moment I got it. Yes, she wants me home, but she also loves me and doesn’t want me dying on the side of the road.

I learned that making amends involved more than a simple apology. My amends needed substance. The substance of words and actions.

The phrase “I’m sorry” just doesn’t mean much anymore. It’s usually uttered to quickly resolve the potential conflict. It’s also a phrase that can be said to mean a lot of different messages. Consider each of these iterations:

“I’m sorry, okay?” Defensive posture, aka “Get off my back.”

“I’m sorry” (followed by an eyeroll). Arrogant posture: “You’re crazy.”

“Do you want me to say I’m sorry? Fine, I’m sorry.” Attacking posture: “I’ll give you something that looks like what you want, but it isn’t what you really want.”

“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way.” Passive-aggressive posture: “It’s your fault for feeling that way.”

Making amends might involve saying the phrase I’m sorry but it’s way more robust than that. It’s a process that someone goes through to address the mess and begin to clean it up to make things right.

Think of breaking someone's trust as creating a debt that you now have to pay back. An amends is a humble request to find out how that debt can be repaid.

Typically I see people attempting to apologize as a way to quickly get out of a conflict. This can counteract the trust rebuilding process as the offender may not feel the full weight of the harm their actions have caused. 

Correct the mistakes you can and accept your limitations when you can’t. True amends are life changing interactions supported by life changing behaviors.

Making amends ...

Builds in you: Service

Helps others build trust in your: Substance

Samuel Rainey, son of Barbara and Dennis Rainey, is a marriage and family therapist. He and his wife Stephanie have four kids.

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