You’ve done it again. Or maybe you’ve not done it again. Either way, you’ve messed up in your marriage once more. I’m not talking about a major life crisis like infidelity or financial recklessness; these are situations of a different magnitude. I mean the more subtle, everyday ways in which you let each other down, intentionally or unintentionally.
For my daughter’s upcoming wedding, Susan gave me a task that was important to her—making sure all of the correct addresses were put into the wedding invitation list. Well, I put the addresses into the list but did not check them. Thus, some of them were old and the invitations were returned to us. While I didn’t think it was a big deal, it was a big deal to Susan. She gave me a small job, and I did not do it well which created more work for her.
What about a mistake you made? For instance, maybe you’re forgetful and you left the milk out overnight once again and it’s gone bad, despite having been asked countless times to be more careful. Or, you failed to ask how your spouse was coping with that difficult work situation, even though you know it’s been weighing heavily on them for weeks. You come off as uncaring.
Rather than being dismissive—”It’s nothing, she just needs to get over it”—or defensive—”Doesn’t he know that I’ve got challenges of my own?” I have found seven ways to react positively that can help you deal successfully with a mess up in your marriage.
1. Admit you’re wrong.
Susan was right; I messed up. But thankfully that’s the exception, not the rule. My slip doesn’t make me a failure; my efforts to become a better husband are a campaign, not a single battle. Owning a mistake is like a tactical withdrawal—it gives you a chance to regroup, refresh, and rearm for another assault against mistakes and to do it right the next time.
2. Ask for forgiveness.
It’s one thing to acknowledge you are in the wrong, but it’s another to take ownership. Don’t explain away how you came to let them down or hurt them, or try to justify your failure. That’s minimizing their hurt. Tell them you were wrong, and ask them to forgive you. It’s humbling for you, but healing for them. You’ll soothe some of the bruises you may have caused. Here is a guide for how to ask for forgiveness.
3. Forgive yourself, too.
Having stepped up, let yourself go free. Falling down doesn’t matter quite so much if you keep on getting back up. Grieving about how you messed up can be healthy if it leads to doing it right the next time. But self-hatred about a mistake can be damaging. Here are 9 Tips for When You Can’t Forgive Yourself.
4. Take inventory.
Treat yourself gently, but don’t let yourself off the hook entirely. Do some serious soul-searching to discover why you crashed and burned this time, despite your best intentions. Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, right? If you are going to get up and try again, what might you need to do differently to make more progress next time?
5. Clarify your goal.
Don’t concentrate on where you are starting from, the issue you are dealing with, but look ahead to the endpoint. Where do you want to go? For me, if something is important to Susan, like those wedding invitation addresses, then it needs to be important to me.
6. Take baby steps.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew with vague “I’ll never” or “I’ll always” vows that end up being empty. That will only frustrate you and disappoint your spouse. Instead, take a smaller bite. Make your efforts measurable. I remember a season when I was criticizing Susan quite a bit. So I took some baby steps to change my ways. I wrote myself reminder notes to speak words of encouragement to Susan each day.
7. Ask for help.
Life is a team sport, not a solo pursuit. Sometimes we need other people to offer encouragement, advice, and even the occasional kick in the pants. Find someone or a group that can be on your side, people who will not only hold you accountable but root for you. For example, here are 5 reasons you need marriage mentors. They can be your coach, commiserating with you in defeat and supporting you in victory.
When and how have you bounced back from a mistake in your marriage? Share your experiences here.