Step 9: Taking responsibility, we make direct amends to those we have hurt, namely our spouse and ourselves, except when these amends would cause undue harm on others.
A good friend of mine suggested that he thinks the first thousand years of heaven will be apologies. Maybe we can get a jump start on this with step 9.
As we discussed in step 8, you are being asked to write a letter to your spouse based upon the questions you answered in that step. This is a letter of responsibility and ownership, not a letter of “I’m sorry’s”. The aim here is giving an account of the hurt and harm that you have caused. Unfortunately I think that we often let apologies get in the way of ownership. Instead of facing and admitting the wrongs we have done, we too quickly move to the “I’m sorry, let’s move on” part of the forgiveness process. In doing this, we don’t really have to suffer the pain that we’ve caused but we also don’t get the full redemptive feeling of being forgiven.
True forgiveness is costly because we are letting go of our rights and instead letting grace and mercy be center stage. Making amends for the wrongs we have done is a painful and necessary step in accepting forgiveness and granting forgiveness. When we have been forgiven (and accepted it), it is far easier to grant it.
Making direct amends to ourselves, God, and our spouse is a kind of spiritual housekeeping that allows you to clean out that junk drawer of your life. Think of this step like a confession. In our modern day culture of fame and instant gratification, when someone confesses something (usually after getting caught), they are ridiculed, condemned, and critiqued for their wrong doings. There is no mercy from the crowd. This can be different in your marriage, but you have to give the power to forgive to your spouse. After reading them the letter, give them time to ask you questions or to respond with statements and reflections of what it was like for them to hear. Don’t ask for forgiveness to be grated immediately, give them time to come to a place of forgiveness on their own.
You’re writing this letter with the foundation of steps 1, 2, and 3. These were the steps of establishing peace between you and God. Only when something has been emptied can it be filled with something new.
Taking the Step
Get your list of answers from step 4 and step 8, and begin writing a letter that expresses your heart of wanting to make amends for what you have done and for what you have left undone. In the same way you did step 8 three times, the process is the same here. Write your rough draft, then read it to someone else, and then edit and rewrite it to be read to your spouse. Don’t read the first draft to your spouse!
Avoid using these words and phrases:
I was not trying to
Never, always, ever, every time
pledge/promise/guarantee (future oriented)
Do use these words and phrases:
I was wrong
This is how I have hurt you
I want to hear from you how I can make it right
Please forgive me for
Be specific in your letter about the ways that you have hurt and harmed the relationship and your spouse. Take responsibility for why you did these things, don’t justify or explain your behaviors.
This is why it’s important for you to have someone guiding you along this process. They will be able to listen to your letter and offer feedback to help you hone in on the overall tone and feeling of the letter. Don’t let your blind spots create more hurt and harm in the relationship.
I have done this process with lots of individuals and couples, and the letters are almost always the biggest breakthrough experience when they are done well. Yes they are painful to read and hear, but they are like aloe vera on sunburned skin.
Conversely, it is obvious when the letters aren’t done well (rushed, shallow in depth of understanding or ownership, or incomplete) because it leaves a sour taste in the room after the letters have been read.
After you have completed your letter (write, read, edit, rewrite), let your spouse know that you’ve completed it and then set a date and time for you to read your letter to them. Do not make this reciprocal, allow them do this step in their timing. We all move at different speeds and if we expect our spouse to be as slow or fast as us, we get in the way of healing and recovery.
For the Reader – Go slow. You’re sharing a lot of new insight and information, give your spouse space to hear what you are saying. Sit across from them on the couch or in chairs, close enough to touch, but too close to make one of you uncomfortable. When you’re done, give the letter to your spouse and let them ask questions and give feedback.
For the Listener – Unfold your arms and legs, open your body to listen. Rest your hands palms up on your knees. Receive what is being given to you. Don’t interrupt. When they are finished, the first three things you comment on need to be encouraging and positive. Thank them for writing it, thank them for being intentional, thank them for caring about the marriage to do this exercise. You’re welcome to ask clarifying questions, but be careful. Do so with believing the best about them, not the worst. If you’re not in the right emotional space to do this, simply say thank you and that you need some time to reflect on what you heard.
- What surprised you about writing this letter?
- How do you feel about your letter?
- What are your hopes in reading this to your spouse?
- Where is God in this for you?