Throughout my years of counseling I have encountered betrayed spouses who were open to the restoration of their marriages, but they felt frustrated that their spouse did not understand the importance of apologizing or of taking ownership for the damage caused. As strange as it might seem, a spouse who has had an affair, and is even truly contrite, can need help understanding why and how to apologize in a truly meaningful way.
These spouses also often need help understanding that the apology is about a lifestyle, not merely saying "I'm sorry." Rebuilding after betrayal takes time and work. It is more than just ending the affair--though that is a crucial first step! A sincere and meaningful apology is a key aspect to rebuilding after betrayal. And an apology is not merely saying I'm sorry. It is a posture of humility that owns the damage done and walks forward in a manner that tenderly helps to heal the betrayed spouse.
While an apology letter is not an instant fix, it is an important and valuable step in the recovery process. There is no one way to write an apology letter. However, there are some important elements that can be tremulously healing for the betrayed spouse. Below, I have organized those elements into 7 paragraphs based on the acronym APOLOGY.
Keep in mind that this is a sample. Your apology letter needs to be from you, in your own words, capturing the specific details of your situation and the needs of your wife. Also, the apology letter is only one aspect of genuine contriteness. Your behavior over time will prove whether or not your apology is sincere. So do not expect that all you need to do is write an apology and all will be well. You need to also make the necessary changes that prove your genuine sorrow in what you did and your genuine desire to prioritize her well being.
1. Awareness - This is where you capture that you see your spouse and that you see what your betrayal has done to her.
You trusted me with your heart, with your life, with all of who you are, and I betrayed you. I am the person you loved and trusted most, and I shattered you and brought a turmoil into your life that is indescribable. I unleashed a tsunami of crushing losses, losses so deep they cannot be fully measured, losses that you experience with every fiber of who you are. I humiliated, disrespected, and disregarded you. I see how my selfish choices have stolen from you, exhausted you, depleted you, bewildered you, and turned your world upside down. I see your pain and how it engulfs you, how it intrudes in your life, how it disrupts the moments of your day. I see how hard you try to push through it, and how it overwhelms you and wrestles you to the ground. I see how you fight to press through, emotionally exhausted, and how you fight to get back up, how you show up even though your heart is in tatters and your life feels like wreckage. You live with a new, unwelcome, uninvited reality—a reality of sorrow, of intrusive thoughts, of horrible reminders. And because of my selfish actions, you live with a heavy and excruciating burden of shame and self-doubt.
2. Possession - This is where you take ownership of and responsibility for the betrayal and clearly articulate that the infidelity was not because of your spouse and is not a reflection on her worth or adequacy.
I have watched you struggle under the tormenting weight of self doubt, as you wonder if my infidelity was somehow because of you, because of who you are, or because of who you are not. Thoughts come to tell you that you are not enough, that something is wrong with you. That is not true. My betrayal was not because of anything you did or did not do. My betrayal was not about who you were or were not. My unfaithfulness was my choice and reflected my brokenness and my deviation from what is right and good and loving and honorable. My foolish willingness to squander your trust was a profound and damaging error for which I am responsible. I made the choice to be unfaithful to you and to our family, and I am responsible for those choices. My unfaithfulness was wholly my choice. I am so sorry for having made that choice. I was so incredibly wrong and selfish and self-absorbed.
3. Outsider - This is where you articulate your rejection of the outsider.
I am so sorry for how I chose to tolerate, entertain, and engage in inappropriate conversations and exchanges with another woman, and how, step by step, I chose to deviate from honoring our marriage and to exchange my faithfulness to you for empty and meaningless interactions with an outsider. I abandoned the love and devotion you offered me, and I gave myself away in ways that were never meant to be shared with anyone else but you. I apologize for engaging in sex outside of our marriage. I violated the sanctity and sacredness of our marriage. I deeply regret this, and I deeply regret the prices you are paying.
4. Lies and Truth - This is where you acknowledge and come clean about your coverups during the infidelity.
I apologize for treating your suspicions and questions with contempt. I responded by lying and gas-lighting you. I am sorry for how I have practiced deception and allowed you to struggle through mental torment as I covered my tracks, protected my duplicity, and misled you repeatedly. I apologize for what I did to you as my wife, my friend, my ally, a mom, a daughter, a sister. My actions have had cataclysmic affects across the breadth and depth of your life. I see how I was defensive and stonewalled when you sought answers and truth. I made accusations against you to distract from my deceit. I played destructive and corrosive games with your mind and emotions. Those were selfish, self absorbed, defiant attempts to avoid having to face my horrible choices and to avoid facing the damage I was causing and have caused. There is no excuse for any of that. I apologize.
5. Openness - This is where you openly acknowledge your attempts to protect yourself instead of your spouse since the discovery of your infidelity.
I am beginning to see the horrific nature and implications of my betrayal and its aftermath. I apologize for how I have treated you since your discovery of the betrayal. I have isolated and devastated you by refusing to accept responsibility sooner and for treating you with contempt. I am sorry for twisting our conversations in an attempt to control and bully you into burying your feelings. I have tried to blame you and make this your fault, when it is my fault. I apologize for caring more about not having to feel sorrow and pain for the problems I have created, than opening myself to see and take responsibility for the sorrow and pain you are experiencing. My lack of empathy has been appalling and has caused more and more injury to you. I apologize. There is no excuse for the coldness, harshness, and impatience with which I have treated you.
6. Gushing Apologies - This is where you give a cascade of apologies that are specific to your actions and to what those actions have caused.
I apologize for not telling you the truth and providing the details you requested after you discovered my betrayal. I apologize that because I have not been transparent, you are continually learning new details about the betrayal that I should have been forthcoming with. I apologize for the way in which you learnt about my betrayal, and the indignity and humiliation I have caused you by colluding with an outsider. I apologize for your sleepless nights, for the sadness you feel when you open your eyes on a morning, for the nightmares that invade your sleep, for the embarrassment when you encounter others who might know about my infidelity. I apologize for the mockery I made of you by living a lie, and for injecting insecurity into your life. I apologize for pressuring you in various ways to just forget about it and move on, as though the pain and wounds are superficial and simple. I apologize for not sitting with you in your pain, for not allowing you to sort through the deep hurt, injustice, fear, and frustration in my presence and with me. I apologize for how this has ruptured our family and impacted our children. I apologize for you having to wrestle through whether you should stay in our marriage or go and for you having to wrestle through if you are unforgiving for thinking about leaving or weak for thinking about staying. I apologize for how, through my betrayal, I have assaulted your confidence, your hopes, your happiness, your time, your energy, your productivity, your focus, your faith, your beliefs, your health, your sleep, your trust, your dreams, your peace.
7. Yes, I Am Committed - This is where you underscore your commitment to rebuild and you reinforce that your spouse is your priority.
I know that I cannot go back in time and change what I have done. If I could, I would. But in the present and for the future, my desire is to be the husband and man you need me to be, to be a healer for you, to repair the damage by the grace of God, to rebuild your trust, and to bring security and safety to you. My desire is to love you in such a way that you know you are beyond compare and that you are confident that you have no rivals for my love and fidelity. I apologize for what I have stolen from you and what I have allowed to be stolen from you and from our family. My prayer is to do the daily work of rebuilding and for you to see that tending to the health of my wife, our marriage, and our family is my joy and priority.
As mentioned above, a genuine apology comes from a genuine heart of contriteness. This means you need to live out the apology. This is often difficult to do alone, as there can be many blind spots with regard to betrayal. For this reason, it is often helpful to join a marriage recovery group, to seek counseling or coaching, or to ask a mature married husband or couple who truly understands how to rebuild after betrayal to walk alongside of you and hold you accountable.
Dr. Dawn-Marie shares a refreshing blend of professional insights and personal stories in this encouraging blog.