So, you’ve done something that hurt your spouse. It could be something big, like an affair, or something small, like a simple miscommunication. Although you can’t go back in time and change what you’ve done, you can (and should) repent and ask your spouse for forgiveness.
But how? How do you approach a person you’ve wronged and ask them to forgive you for that wrong?
Before asking anyone for forgiveness, it helps to understand what forgiveness is (and what it isn’t). You’re not asking your spouse to pretend that nothing happened. You’re not saying they shouldn’t feel hurt by what you’ve done. Instead, you are asking if they will agree not to hold that unpayable debt against you.
It is also useful to remember why forgiveness is important. You may feel like you’re asking your spouse for a favor (and, indeed, they may see it the same way). But forgiveness is something that all believers are called to do for each other. Forgiveness benefits both of you; by asking for forgiveness, you give them a chance to let go of the grudge they are carrying and start the healing process.
Before you even approach your spouse to ask for forgiveness, begin with prayer.
Confess your sin to God (1 John 1:9). Whatever you said or did that hurt your spouse, it can probably be traced to a sin of pride, hate, lust, apathy, etc. You should acknowledge that sin and ask God’s forgiveness for it (Psalm 32:1-5).
Pray and ask the Lord to reveal if there is anything else you need to apologize for (Psalm 139:23-24).
When you do ask your spouse for forgiveness, avoid having an attitude of “you should forgive me” or “you must forgive me.” The fact is, your spouse doesn’t owe you anything; you owe them something, which is why there is a debt to forgive. It is true that believers are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13), but it is not your role to enforce that. Instead, you should approach your spouse humbly (Luke 14:11) and with the intention of serving them, putting their interests ahead of your own (Philippians 2:3-4).
You want to ask forgiveness for the hurt you’ve caused. However, you don’t fully know how your actions have affected your spouse. The debt you are asking them to forgive may be much bigger (or smaller) than you realize. There may even be other things you’ve done that have also caused your spouse pain without you realizing it.
The Bible says it is unwise to give an answer before you understand the question (Proverbs 18:13). In a similar vein, it’s kind of unfair to ask a question (“Will you forgive me?”) without really knowing what it is you are asking them to do.
So, give your spouse an opportunity to share. Ask them questions like, “When I did that, how did it make you feel?” Or, “If someone did that to me, I’d probably feel betrayed and angry. Is that how you felt when I did that to you?” Ask them if there is anything else that you also need to seek forgiveness for.
Showing that you understand how they feel and fully appreciate the seriousness of what you have done makes it easier for them to grant forgiveness. You want to own your whole part and acknowledge how you have hurt them; that way, you can ask forgiveness for all of the hurt.
Once you do genuinely repent and ask for forgiveness, realize that it is now out your hands. You have no control over whether they grant you forgiveness or not; that is their choice.
Understand that it may be difficult for them to grant forgiveness quickly. Also, even if they do forgive you, it will take time to rebuild trust in your marriage. There may be consequences involved as part of your repentance, such as boundaries or restrictions to help prevent you from slipping into the same temptation or sin pattern again. Accept those consequences graciously.
Asking for forgiveness is hard. It’s humbling. It leaves you vulnerable, because there is always the chance that your spouse might choose not to forgive you.
But, asking for forgiveness also sets you free. It means that you have done your part. Regardless of how your spouse responds, you can be faithful in how you repent and ask for forgiveness.