Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
You've been caught in a failure, and you're sorry. You truly are. But sometimes your sorrowfulness seems shallow. Your grief for wrongdoing seems superficial when faced with the damage you've done.
When your mate has been victimized by your behavior, their question is often, ‘How sorry are you?'"
A man has an affair and has been found out. But he hesitates to make his phone records available to his wife. He gets testy when she wants to know how he has been spending his unaccounted for time.
A woman is caught spending more money on a shopping spree than agreed on. She doesn't want to have to account for her spending. She resents being "treated like a child."
A man has been discovered—again—on a pornographic site. He doesn't want to have an accountability partner or a monitoring program placed on his computer.
"How long do I have to pay for what I did?" the man who had the affair angrily asks his wife. "When will I ever be paid in full?"
His attitude grates on his wife, who suffers daily with images of her husband with the other woman.
When is being sorry "enough"? What are some things we can look for in a truly repentant heart? When will we know if our mate really understands how badly they've hurt us with their actions?
A woman summarized these concerns in a recent email:
Dear Dr. David. My husband and I have been fighting a lot lately. This is our second marriage and we have a blended family. I've been hurt deeply by the things he says when he is angry. He apologizes later, but always seems to turn things back on me. If I wouldn't have acted the way I did, he wouldn't get so angry. If I wouldn't say what I said, he wouldn't say the things he says. I don't feel like he is really sorry. What can I do to ensure he is truly sorry, and that he will change?
This woman struggles with the question raised by this article—"How sorry are you… really?"
First, we must remember no one can judge another's heart—this is the work of God alone. (Hebrews 4:12) However, we certainly have been given discernment by which we can sense the sincerity of another's motives and intentions. We have a ‘sense' about whether someone is willing to fully discuss their wrongdoing, sit with your pain over their actions, and take necessary remedial actions to heal the relationship.
Second, we know that a Godly sorrow leads to repentance—which is a turning away from a wrongful behavior. (2 Corinthians 7:10) If someone says they are sorry for an action, and then doesn't turn completely away from it, one must question the depth of their sorrow. If they continue to ‘dance on the line,' rather than turning from their behavior, it is likely they have not experienced depth remorse. Depth remorse shows itself by a willingness to turn away from wrong and move in the opposite direction.
Third, sorrow over failures leads us to seek out the counsel of others, and submit to their wisdom. When we fully accept that our best thinking got us where we are, we realize we need the wise counsel of others to ensure we don't fail again. Refusal to accept counsel and accountability suggests a willful, defiant attitude—sure to lead to failure again in the future.
Finally, we must repay those whom we have wounded. Making appropriate amends is Biblical, appropriate and simply makes good sense. When someone is wounded by our actions, trust is broken. This trust can only be restored when we show them by our actions we are serious about change--that they won't be hurt again. Additionally, this repayment—or making of amends—is determined at least in part by the wounded party. We cannot measure the extent to which we have harmed another by our behavior. We must listen carefully to them to see what they need to renew their trust in us. We must submit to their wisdom. We must submit to their counsel in this particular situation. While this can be incredibly humbling, this action leads to restoration of trust and sanctity of the relationship.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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