5 Things Not to Say When You’re Apologizing

5 Things Not to Say When You're Aplogizing

I remember the first fight James and I had as newlyweds.

I was not a good cook but I had acquired a secret weapon to aid my culinary cause: a brand new George Foreman grill.  It looked easy enough – place the chicken in, close the lid, and allow the patented sloped design and nonstick coating to do the rest!  I was going to make chicken, rice and broccoli.  This was a big event in my new bride life.

It was about 5:00 pm when James bounded into our small Dallas apartment on the fourth floor.

“There’s a guy I passed on the way up,” he said.  “He’s just moving in, why don’t we invite him over for dinner?”

There was no way I was having a guest for dinner.  First, I didn’t have enough chicken for more than two people.  Second, I was nervous about serving the dinner just to James, let alone a guest.  Third, our apartment didn’t have much furniture and was in no condition for entertaining.  Fourth, I am a planner while James is spontaneous and this was not planned.

I clearly outlined these reasons to James and apologized that we wouldn’t be able to do it.  I returned to slaving over my George Foreman grill.  About ten minutes later, James waltzed in the kitchen and announced with a twinkle in his eye, “Our new neighbor Walter will be up for dinner in a few minutes.”

Didn’t I just say he couldn’t come?  I was fuming!  After I slammed cabinet drawers shut and set up another place setting, the doorbell rang.

“Hello Walter!”

During dinner, I ate very little chicken and broccoli as Walter enjoyed my share.  Right after Walter left and the door was closed, my smile immediately turned into a scowl and I stomped into the kitchen.

James literally tackled me and threw me on the floor in Tigger-like fashion.  He laid right on top of me and put his big grinning face close to mine and said emphatically, “I’m sorry!”

I said, “Are you sorry because I’m mad or are you sorry because what you did was wrong and you won’t do it again?”  He paused to think about that.

When you and your spouse are in conflict, there are five things you don’t want to say when apologizing.

1.  I should be excused because I…

2.  If you hadn’t….

3.  What’s the big deal?

4.  You’re acting like a baby.

5.  Why can’t you just forget about it?

Thankfully, James didn’t say “I should be excused because I really had good intentions of reaching out to our neighbor” or “What’s the big deal?  The night went fine.” 

After more fuming on my part and talking on his, he said he was truly sorry and that he would not do it again.  I accepted his apology and am happy to say that he has never brought someone home for dinner against my will.  His apology was sincere and has been tested over time!

Arlene Pellicane


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Written by Arlene Pellicane

Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife and 31 Days to a Happy Husband. She is currently writing a book with Dr. Gary Chapman (The 5 Love Languages) titled Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World (September 2014). She and her husband James live in Southern California with their three children. Arlene loves to encourage women in their journey to create happy homes that honor Christ. She has been featured on FamilyLife Today, K-LOVE, The 700 Club, Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah, and Home Made Simple on TLC. For free resources and more, visit ArlenePellicane.com.


  1.  avatar
    Mrs. Jack Watson says:

    When I began reading this article, I thought the wife (Arlene) would be apologizing, not her husband. I wonder if she didn’t miss a blessing by submitting to her husband’s leadership when he wanted to invite their neighbor over for dinner. No. 12 in Arlene’s Happy Wife quiz is, “I believe my husband is the leader in our marriage.” Should there have been a reason for her husband to have had to apologize? I believe God gets the glory when wives are help meets in His order of marriage even when that means following our husbands with a good attitude when we feel they are wrong. I am not at all accomplished in always following my husband’s lead, but God is so merciful and patient with me.

    •  avatar
      Erin Railey says:

      I kind of feel the same way and see where you are coming from. However I also think the husband should take into consideration his wife’s needs and at the same time, the wife should definitely take these kind of situations as opportunities to serve. (Or course these can’t happen all the time).

    •  avatar
      Bill says:

      You sound like a sexist. She did submit, even though her husband didn’t care to protect her, didn’t care about her feelings and completely ignored her, she still sat and entertained her unwanted guest with a smile on her face. If that is not submission I don’t know what is. The bible says husbands are to submit to their wives as well. He was the one being unsubmissive. Husbands are to lead their wives in love with the idea that she is to be cherished not ran over.

    •  avatar
      Arsi says:

      Mrs. Jack Watson, I agree 100%!! I had all the same thoughts as I read the article. Praise the Lord for His grace & mercy as we seek to obey Him & our husbands.

    •  avatar
      Patrick says:

      Being a Godly leader, requires us men to consider the wisdom that God has equipped our Godly wives with. It’s no accident God intended man to be with woman, it’s a balance. A good leader always listens to the counsel of his most trusted confidant. And with each spouse attuned to The Lord, nothing will be missed.

  2.  avatar
    Alina says:

    I agree completely. Saying “It is not a big deal” is not a good way to apologize. It shows that you don’t care about how the other person is feeling. Trying to understand the other person’s point of view and finding some common ground is one of the best ways to act when we have a different point of view than our partner. It is not always easy :), but it is worth trying.

    Thank you, Arlene, for this great post!

  3.  avatar
    JNC says:

    I agree with Mrs. Watson……….a husband should be free to invite people into the home when he is moved to do so. I do also agree with the things you shouldn’t say when apologizing. I used to feel exactly the same about having people over unplanned but my dear husband kept inviting and each time we were blessed more. Many people have commented on how nice it is to be entertained without all the fuss that goes along with planning.

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      shevrae says:

      My husband and I, after many years of painful interactions, are learning that while what he wants to do might be right and good, it is better for our relationship if we have a conversation about it where we are both free to express our opinions and feel heard. He thought leadership meant making unilateral decisions for both of us and I thought submitting meant swallowing my opinions. It almost destroyed our marriage.

  4.  avatar
    Tanya says:

    When I first read this, I wondered if I was totally out of line thinking I would side with the husband, but see I am not. My husband brings home homeless people, invites them to eat with us in restaurants, etc. I believe we are able to bless people and in turn be blessed by stretching ourselves. The evening wasn’t about the food at all, or the furniture, etc. Just my opinion. Although it’s been uncomfortable, who am I to tell my hubby not to do something he truly feels called to do.

  5.  avatar
    Laura McCollum says:

    The issue is not about whether or not the husband has to ask permission to invite someone home for dinner. He knew his wife’s feelings that night, and he still chose to invite the neighbor. That is not Biblical! However, that is not the point of this posting. It is about how not to apologize to another person by flanking your apology with devaluing statements. We should apologize for hurting someone’s feelings regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the offense. It is not our place to tell another person that he has no reason to feel the way he does. It is called validating feelings. There are lots of articles on the topic, if you are interested in learning.

  6.  avatar
    Nikki says:

    These could be added to the list:

    “I’m sorry BUT….”
    “I’m sorry IF…”

    These two big words nullify the word before them. In that case, don’t even say you’re sorry because the next phrase shows it’s not meant at all.

  7.  avatar
    Jessica says:

    People seem so quick to remember that wives are to submit to their husbands as the church is to submit to Christ.
    What is so often forgotten or overlooked is that husbands are to mirror Christ in the relationship. He laid down His life for the church – put the church’s need ahead of His own.
    If a wife can trust that her husband’s decisions are always made with a mind to her needs, then submission becomes much less difficult.

  8.  avatar
    Dave says:

    Nikki beat me to it – you don’t want to ever say “but” when apologizing. That one word completely negates the “I’m sorry” you said before it.

  9.  avatar
    Joshua says:

    Sounds more like to me the husband was being an immature jerk or at best childish for going directly against her. The first thing I thought of when I heard the “bounce on me like tigger and say ‘I’m sorry'” was, “No you’re not buddy, you’re not sorry at all and you shouldn’t be lying about it.”

    I’m a husband and a father to two. My job is to look after my wife and care for her and my children. That includes taking into consideration their feelings over my own. The post obviously wasn’t illustrating the wife being domineering to her husband, we know that’s wrong, but it’s more about being considerate towards each other and submitting to one another out of love.

    The writer did a pretty good job laying out the situation in this post and while I don’t see both sides of the story, his actions speak for themselves (smiling ear to ear, ‘bouncing’ on her, etc). This was a maturity problem on the husband’s part and disrespectful.

    Yes, those are great things we shouldn’t say when you apologize.

    An apology should be viewed as ‘falling on your own sword’ with no prefaces or conditions. No “I’m sorry, BUT…..” or “It wasn’t that bad….” etc. Additionally an apology is not always about us, because we don’t always know or think we did something wrong. It’s a reflection on those we love. Did I hurt the one I love and if so, in what way? That’s what the husband here went through. In the end he didn’t think he was wrong to do what he did most likely, but apologized because after a short talk he understood that he wronged her. And he was sorry for wronging her.

    By the same token the person who accepts the apology shouldn’t say “It’s ok.” Because it obviously wasn’t ok or the person wouldn’t have to apologize. And this is something we fall into a lot.

    I’m sure when we sin against God and repent he doesn’t say “It’s ok.” No. He says “Let me cleanse you.”

    In Isaiah chapter 6 when the prophet said “Woe is me for I’m a man of unclean lips and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the Most High God.” (I’m paraphrasing) God didn’t say “It’s ok.” What he did was purify Isaiah in that moment. He acknowledged the sin and cleansed it.

    That’s what He does with us and that’s what we need to do as those who accept apologies. Acknowledge that yes, it was wrong… and I forgive you for that wrongdoing. Now let’s move on in love.

  10.  avatar
    Jane M says:

    Is no one else here concerned that

    “James literally tackled me and threw me on the floor in Tigger-like fashion. He laid right on top of me and put his big grinning face close to mine and said emphatically, . . .”

    Friends, that is ASSAULT, whether it is done to one’s spouse or a stranger.

    • It sounded far more like romantic play fighting to me. And I truly think that’s what Arlene was describing. Maybe some women don’t like play fighting, but I love it personally.

  11.  avatar
    Tammy Krauss says:

    Ms. Arlene Pellicane,
    Can I talk with you one on one? Please!!! Marriage issues…major!!!

  12.  avatar
    Grant says:

    Jessica, so should we tell our wife/church that it is ok not to shine the love because the church doesn’t fell there is enough to go around?

  13.  avatar
    Tanya says:

    I have to side with the wife on this one. Her husband asked her and she explained the reasons why she would rather invite the new neighbor another night. The husband disregarded her feelings in the matter which, to me, says he wasn’t going to take her wishes into consideration to begin with, so he should not have even bothered to ask. In this case, even though her attitude may not have been what it should have been, she DID acquiesce when the neighbor showed up.
    Either way, I enjoyed this post. I think there’s good insight here about apologizing. I will be teaching my boys this… apologies have to be sincere.

  14.  avatar
    Katie says:

    I think we need to add “I didn’t do anything” to this list. Anytime I’m upset at my husband the dialog always starts off this way.
    It’s frustrating.

  15.  avatar
    Monica Domnguez says:

    How was the chicken? 🙂
    If it tasted great…that would of made me happy and forget about the guest 😉

  16.  avatar
    Sabienne says:

    The level of James’ disrespect for Arlene (at least, at that point in time) is astonishing. I hope he has matured.

  17.  avatar
    Jean says:

    I don’t think submitting to your husband means to do whatever he says. Too many men think that whatever they decide is always from God, when in reality and especially this case, I don’t think he got revelation for the guest to come over and eat. (They were going to do it at some point anyway.

  18.  avatar
    Patty says:

    I am astonished at the number of women admonishing the writer for her response…perhaps she could have been a little more flexible, but when she carefully explained to her husband her valid reasons for not wanting to entertain a guest “spur of the moment” he should have listened and at the very least made a compromise by agreeing to have the new neighbor over at a later date. Instead he trampled all over her heart by not listening to her and valuing what she had to say. At leads the DID learn from his mistake because it never happened again. We all make mistakes in our marriages and she was gracious enough to forgive his immaturity and insensitivity. Kudos to the godly men standing up and saying he didn’t act in his wife’s best interests!!

  19.  avatar
    Beverly says:

    There are several options I can see as to how this might have been handled. He could have asked if they had enough food and offered to get more. Perhaps he could have suggested take out so there’d be enough. She might have added some more rice to the pot and stretched what they had to accommodate but hey, it all came out fine so “what’s the big deal”. smiles

  20.  avatar
    Mishy says:

    At the very least, he could have realized that if there wasn’t enough food and he was inviting over an extra person, the nice thing to do would have been to say, “He can have my portion” not what really happened which was “he can have your portion.” He was very immature at that point in time. Hopefully he learned from his mistakes in other areas as well. Courtesy and submission goes both ways. Marriage is not a dictatorship. If it is, it won’t last.

  21.  avatar
    Priscilla Rogers says:

    I was married 26 years to a man who thought he was the king of the castle. He was so immature and abusive, but I stayed for the children. Today we have been divorced for more than 20 years, and both of us are in our 70’s. He has changed some, but he still thinks he is always right. I went along with him so not to rock the boat, but that resulted in severe depression. After years of abuse, verbal and emotional, it took years of therapy to get to the place that I am now happy. In the meantime I had a 15 year marriage to the sweetest man in the world. Hindsight makes me wonder why I didn’t walk out long before it became so severe.

  22.  avatar
    DD says:

    Mrs. Jack Watson
    I do believe the husband had to apologize. Being that the wife clearly went with what her husband wanted to do, she still made the dinner, she still entertained even against her will, she even sounded like she was being pleasant with the unexpected guest, she even didn’t eat as much so the guest could eat. Being in this position myself numerous times, I believe that Love is not manipulative.
    I Corinthians 13:4-7 says, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    People often love to state..” well the wife is to submit to her husband” but what they fail to remember is that the Husband is to love his wife.

    Was he being loving by not considering her feelings, or her thoughts on the whole manner.. patient would have been to maybe invite him over the next day when he would have had time to HELP her with a meal by planning it ( to be sure there would be enough or making it, cleaning up the house to make it more presentable. Or if he felt that he had to have this man over that day then offer to Help in any way possible.
    I may be the only one in thinking that the husband was actually being manipulative in this, by not considering his wife’s thoughts, by inviting the man over without telling her as she continued to cook a meal that she thought was for them , he put her in a position where she absolutely could not respond because he was already there. Love would have been, possibly saying God was leading him to invite this man over, offer to help in any way possible, go get more to serve for the meal, help cook the meal, offer to help with the house any of these.. not continue to let her cook a meal, thinking her argument was valid and then surprising her with the unexpected guest STILL and then playfully pouncing on her to jokingly apologize. I think she gets Kudos for entertaining still and giving up part of her meal 🙂

  23.  avatar
    Reina says:

    Wow. That would make Jesus proud. As a homemaker and homeschooling mother of 3 I can understand your embarrassment for not having enough food to serve a guest but I would have glady given mine away because that’s what Jesus would want me to do. Being angry and making sure it never happens again?! You are taking away your husbands right to follow God’s will.

  24.  avatar
    Stringfellow says:

    Women are so charmingly confusing. They want us to be spontaneous, but only with them. They want us to apologize, but then scrub our apologies for correctness. They want us to show them off, but only with prior warning. The fuming, door-slamming author sounds self-righteous to me. I hope SHE’s matured.

  25.  avatar
    Priscilla Rogers says:

    Since I am a widow, I can think of times when my husband and I disagreed, but we both were quick to apologise. When I think of the “but” and “ifs” in my life, I am reminded of one of my parents who made me feel that it was my job to make him/her look good. Even when completely wrong, there was no apology except “if I did something wrong, I’m sorry”. Those times are gone, and I am thankful that the memories only surface occasionally. But I have learned what it means to apologise. I am grateful for a precious husband that was also attentive to my needs, and seldom was there a reason for an apology.

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