Perhaps at church, you’ve seen a couple and wondered, “What makes their Christian marriage distinct?” Maybe you’ve noticed that they communicate well together or they complement one another well, or they seem to do all of those things and are better together? Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to be asked by many people, “What makes your marriage with Sarah different?” It’s an important question, and it’s one that I take seriously because, as a Christian and a Christian leader, I have no greater responsibility than to lead myself and my home in godliness.
My marriage with Sarah didn’t begin well. In the first few years, we fought bitterly. One day, I was sitting in my office when we lived in Southern Idaho, reflecting on my marriage, and I realized that I needed to apologize specifically to her for how we fought and how I wasn’t leading her well.
Apologizing Specifically in Marriage
Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul has laid out the problem at the church of Colossae concerning biblical knowledge with a vision of the supremacy of Christ. However, in chapter three, Paul turns to explain to them their identity in Christ. In Colossians 3:12-13, he focuses on what character traits should define the Christian. Christians are to actively possess these character traits because they belong to Christ and are identified with Him in His death and resurrection, through their profession of faith in Christ. Paul speaks to this point in Colossians 3:3, when he says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
The Christian has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus; therefore, he/she should now be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, bearing with others, and forgiving one another as he/she has also been forgiven. We might read Colossians 3:13 individually, and it certainly applies individually. With that said, we need to remember the context once again. Paul is writing to a Christian community made up of male and female Christians, who have gathered together under qualified biblical male eldership to do life with one another. Further, what’s interesting is that, not five verses later, in Colossians 3:18-25, he speaks about Christian homes—speaking to men, women, and children. It’s not a stretch to say that Paul’s teaching in Colossians 3:13 is at the heart of what he wants to say in this chapter to God’s people.
Christians are a forgiven people who are able to forgive because they have been forgiven of their sins and given new life through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Christian couples can forgive one another, because both husband and wife are forgiven of their sins and given new life in Christ. At the heart of apologizing specifically is this idea: because of Christ, we can forgive others because we are forgiven. Thus we can now extend the forgiveness we have received to others—including our spouse—when they hurt us through word or deed.
A few years ago I was preaching at a local church’s men’s retreat in the mountains in Idaho, and I mentioned apologizing specifically in one of the sessions I was speaking on. Afterward, one guy said, “Apologize specifically? There’s no way that my wife wants me to apologize specifically.” Maybe that’s you today, dear Christian man, and you think, “My wife doesn’t want me to apologize specifically.” What I want you to do right now is to stop reading this article and go ask your wife (or as soon as you can), “Sweetheart [or insert preferred name here], do you want me to apologize specifically to you whenever we have a fight?” From my experience working in Men’s Ministry, the overwhelming answer from their wives is yes.
Wives, the same is true of your husbands. It’s time to be specific in our apologies; not using generic phrases, such as, “I’m sorry about earlier,” or “I’m sorry I upset you.” While these phrases might be okay to start with, you’ll need to add in additional information if you want to help your spouse understand that you love them and want to have peace with them. Your sincerity in this is paramount.
There’s a danger here in “apologizing specifically” to both husbands and wives—men, you need to understand that your wife may not be open to hearing your apology. Timing is critical. For example, you don’t want to apologize to your spouse immediately after the fight. You’ll want to give your spouse some space and, after things have cooled down for a bit, then approach with your apology. Sometimes the anger and hurt of the fight is still too strong for an apology to have the desired effect. If that is still the case, allow a bit more time to pass before approaching your spouse again. Bottom line: don’t give up! Even if it takes a couple of days for the strong emotions to fade enough for your spouse to hear (and process) your specific apology, don’t give in to the temptation to “let sleeping dogs lie”. This isn’t something that you can just ignore and leave alone, or you will see the effects begin to fester in your marriage.
I remember the first time I shared about apologizing specifically to my wife like it was yesterday; although now it’s been over a decade ago. At first, she was skeptical and wanting to know what my motive was. Over time, however, she saw my heart behind it and understood why I was doing it. It was a tool in our marriage to help keep the frustrations down, the lines of communication open, and our relationship centered on the Lord Jesus.
Apologizing specifically is a means to an end—that is, growing in love for the Lord and love for each other. Both spouses should be growing in friendship with Christ and with one another. While apologizing specifically is one means to that end, there are a whole host of tools in our “tool-belt” to help us with our relationships.
Growing in Conversation with Your Spouse
One of these tools that have helped Christian couples I’ve worked with (and my own marriage) is having a specific time each day to sit down and talk each day. Now I know that this may not happen for each couple, so I’m not going to suggest a time. Each couple needs to figure out a time that works well for them. And this time doesn’t have to be long period of time, but it should happen. Communicating each day helps coordinate schedules (etc.), but it also builds trust, which in turn builds friendship, which can only help your spouse feel more loved and cared for.
The Purpose of a Weekly Date Night
The second tool is to have a weekly date night. Notice I didn’t say you had to “go out” for that date night. Additionally, you do not need to spend money. While you certainly can do either of those things, we need to be realistic. For couples who have kids (and even those without, but have other constraints), going somewhere for a date (and/or spending money) may not be realistic or practical—especially on a weekly basis. The idea of a “date night” is for couples to have focused time together, where they can share what’s going on in their hearts and lives with their spouses. While going out and enjoying a meal, a movie (although maybe not since covid-19), or some other activity is fun and good, the goal is to foster communication at the heart-level on this night each week. Remember to keep things flexible, while still maintaining a weekly “date”. It doesn’t have to be on the same day each week, so long as you’ve both agreed to the date and time.
What It Means to Overlook Offenses
An important third tool is to overlook offenses. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Now I understand having a negative reaction when you hear “overlook offenses.” What I mean by the idea of “overlooking offenses” isn’t permanently overlooking them. I mean that we should overlook them for a short while, with the goal of not having an issue in the heat of the moment—particularly during a fight or a disagreement. The goal is to have there be harmony and peace in the home, and the fostering of growth in grace.
Very personally, overlooking offenses is hard for me because it means I can’t insist on my “rights” at the time. Instead, it means I must delay what I want to say and exercise self-control. While it’s easy to lash out, it’s far harder to be gentle and self-controlled. The goal of overlooking offenses is love for the Lord and one another.
The Goal of a Marriage Toolkit
All of these tools have the same goal loving the Lord and loving our spouse. One of the primary keys to staying out of your pastor’s or biblical counselor’s office is to stay in the Word and pray daily. Additionally, keep short accounts with God (repent of your sin), keep a tight reign on your tongue (with the help of the Holy Spirit), and be intentional with the tools in your toolkit. All the tools I’ve shared with you have the same goal: for you to be the one who first repents after a fight, be someone who apologizes specifically, and exercises intentionally in living out your life of faith before God, your spouse, and others.
Perhaps at your church, you’ve seen a couple and wondered, “What makes their Christian marriage different from my own?” By considering some of the tools discussed in this article, you can begin to make progress in your own marriage. Perhaps today, you can consider this article a check-up on your marriage. These tools don’t have to be applied in the same way I’ve suggested and perhaps they shouldn’t be. The tools mentioned in this article are principles rooted in God’s Word that are timeless and able to be applied by Christians to their specific situations and marriages. Whether you use these tools or others, the goal is the same: to love the Lord and to love your spouse.