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The Hardest Apology I Ever Had to Give to My Wife

Apologies are essential to the health of any relationship, but some sorries are harder to give than others. Here, 13 husbands share the most difficult one they ever had to give — and why it was so hard.

Is there a staler platitude in the English language than “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”? The line’s from Eric Segal’s novel Love Story — the film adaptation of which became a saccharine hit in the 1970s, hoisting the phrase into the zeitgeist, where it remains to this day. And it’s still nonsense. Love means a lot of things to a lot of different people, sure. But one thing nearly everyone knows about it is that it gives you more reason to apologize.

Mistakes, disagreements, and transgressions happen all the time in a marriage. It’s essential to apologize for the times you’ve screwed up and — whether accidentally or on purpose — hurt the person you love. Hell, even if you’re convinced you’re right, there may have been something in the way you handled being right, right? Right. Apologies, and we’re talking real ones, not flippant “I’m sorries” thrown out after minor transgressions, are really difficult (Ever wonder why some people call it “eating crow”? Because eating crow sucks.) Proper apologies require tact as well as a true awareness of what you did and why it hurt the person you love. And they’re necessary to maintaining the health of a marriage.

The truest apologies come from deep self-reflection. As such, we asked a handful of husbands to discuss their biggest relationship mistakes and the hardest apology they had to make. Some spoke about taking their wives for granted, others about acts of infidelity — both emotional and physical; all explained that, while the apology was difficult, it was worth it in the end. It always is.

A Work Relationship Went Too Far

“I had a ‘work wife.’ It was harmless, really. But, looking back, I can see how it was inappropriate. It never crossed any intimate lines, but the relationship was a lot friendlier than it should have been. My wife knew her from company events, and it became uncomfortable when we would do stuff like share inside jokes, text a lot, and all that. Stuff you should do with your actual wife. Finally, my wife had enough and just blew up at me. I knew I was wrong, which is why it was so hard to apologize — I had to acknowledge that I knowingly crossed the line.” — Donnie, 37, Illinois

I Was Going Out Too Much

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“My wife dated a lot of guys before me who were addicts. She has a very real and justified fear of addiction in her life. Years ago, there was a span of about two weeks where I went out drinking after work almost every night. It was too much. At first I tried to play it off: ‘It’s just beers with the guys!’ Then I kept reassuring her, ‘I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an alcoholic.’ And I’m not. But that wasn’t the point. I was hurting and scaring the most important woman in my life, and I was doing it carelessly. Apologizing to her was so hard because I could see the hurt and fear in her eyes. Hurt and fear that I caused.” — John, 37, North Carolina

I Bullied My Brother-in-Law

“When I first met my wife’s brother, I didn’t like him. He just rubbed me as this overprotective guy. And he was fat. So, when I would complain about him to my friends, I called him ‘Diaper Ass,’ because it always looked like he was wearing a diaper. Well, one time I was texting a buddy and my wife saw my phone. Immediately, she asked, ‘Who’s Diaper Ass?’ Total deer-in-headlights moment. I just choked, and I let the cat out of the bag. She walked away and didn’t say anything. That was the worst part — it was the classic, ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed.’ When I apologized, I felt like I was in junior high, and that everyone —  her, my parents, myself, etc. — was ashamed of me.” — Ryan, 35, Connecticut

I Treated My Mother Better Than Her

“I’m a people pleaser. And until my wife and I had our first child, Mother’s Day was always about my mother. When our daughter was born, suddenly my wife was the mother in ‘Mother’s Day.’ But, I didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings. So I would still focus largely on her when Mother’s Day came around. As our daughter got older, that often led to my wife getting the short end of the stick. She never complained, but I knew I had to switch gears. I just felt like an idiot and a failure because I couldn’t please everyone. Luckily my wife accepted my apology with grace, but I still felt terrible about it.” — Jeremy, 44, New York

I Betrayed Her Trust

“I went over the line a few times by sharing details of our private life with friends. Not even friends, just acquaintances. We would be out somewhere, or at a dinner party, and I just didn’t respect boundaries. Stuff like bathroom habits, embarrassing situations, jokes at her expense — I thought it was all in good fun. When she told me how much it hurt her, I felt so, so guilty. I was trying to impress people — insignificant people, really — at the expense of my wife. Saying I was sorry meant admitting I’d acted like an oblivious asshole, and that I’d betrayed my wife’s trust. That’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt.” — Jason, 38, Ohio

I Forgot Our First Anniversary

“Growing up, my parents never really celebrated their anniversary with anything beyond a note and a hug. So, I wasn’t conditioned to see it as a big deal. On our first anniversary, I just sort of spaced. I apologized, and tried to blame it on my parents. But that was bullshit. I screwed up and, no matter how many times I apologized, it was irreversible. We would never get that chance — to make my wife feel special on our first anniversary — again.” — Joseph, 39, Florida

I Half-Assed an Apology

“I actually had to apologize for making a bad apology. My wife was upset that I bought a new TV without telling her. It wasn’t super expensive, but she was angry that I didn’t bother to include her in the decision. So, I apologized. But, I did it half-assedly while I was watching the TV. I dismissed her feelings because I thought she was overreacting. Then my sister talked some sense into me. She said that, even though I thought it was a silly thing to be upset about, I had to realize that I had a responsibility to respect my wife’s feelings. My apology — the real one — was hard because it was conflicting. On one hand, I really was sorry that I hurt my wife. On the other hand, I still didn’t really see the big deal. But, it was a matter of swallowing my pride and admitting, whether it was a big deal or not, I hadn’t considered my wife’s feelings.” — Ed, 39, Ohio

I Cheated

“I cheated on my wife. It was a one-time thing, with a girl I met at a conference in Las Vegas. It just sort of happened. I didn’t tell her right away because I was afraid to. I didn’t want to hurt her, and I didn’t want to lose our marriage. But, eventually, that guilt just eats away at you and you have no choice but to come clean. I love my wife, and I told her that when I apologized, but it didn’t matter. The damage was done, and the trust was broken. I’m very lucky to be able to say that we’re still together, and that I’ve avoided compromising situations like that ever since. But apologizing for that life-altering fuck-up was easily the scariest, most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.” — Steven, 43, California

I Was Judgmental to Her Friend

“My wife had this friend who was just a total bitch. Just rude, obnoxious, all of it. I’d only met her a few times, but I was sure I had her pegged. My wife insisted I wasn’t giving her a chance, but I wasn’t into hearing it. My wife was right. It turned out that the girl was going through some really messy stuff, and wasn’t exactly the best version of herself when we met. Once things settled down, she turned out to be a really nice person, and we ended up getting along. I was sure she was a bitch, and it turns out I was just being a judgmental prick. My wife never said, ‘I told you so…’ or anything, but that was a rough thing to admit, mostly because it reflected my character, or lack thereof, more than hers.” — Will, 37, Ohio

I Killed Her Fish

“When my wife was my fiancée, I had to apologize for killing her fish. Well, letting it die. Geno was the fish’s name, and I was charged with watching him while she went on a cruise with her friends. I kept him at my place, and just sort of forgot he was there. Two days before she came back, I found him floating in the bowl. I just felt irresponsible. I mean, I was irresponsible. It was a simple job, and I screwed it up. I waited until I saw her in person to tell her. Luckily, she was pretty forgiving; she did marry me. But, the anxiety I had waiting to tell her was just brutal.” — Neil, 37, California

I Dropped Her Laptop

“I dropped my wife’s laptop and almost lost everything on it. Spoiler alert: After a few weeks we were able to recover most of it. But, man, having to gather up the courage to tell her transformed me into a kid again, pissing my pants while I waited for the right time to tell my parents I’d screwed up. She had thousands and thousands of photos and memories on that thing, and I was sure they were gone forever. She was actually pretty calm, but I was absolutely terrified to tell her. I actually had to practice what I planned to say in front of the mirror.” — Jimmy, 35, Massachusetts

I Didn’t Take Her Side

“I made the mistake of not believing my wife when she said a mechanic had been rude to her. I still don’t know the exact details of what happened, but that’s not the point. I tried to approach the situation logically, when what my wife needed was backup. She said that the mechanic was just very patronizing and condescending when she brought our car in, which doesn’t sound like a life-altering situation. But, again, that’s not the point. As men, I think we assume a lot of overreacting from our wives. But, we’re partners. We need to support each other. The apology itself wasn’t as difficult as it was eye-opening. It was a moment in which I had to apologize for dismissing my wife’s feelings, stop thinking like a guy, and start thinking like a husband.” — Billy, 29, Pennsylvania

I Was Neglecting My Family for Work

“The hardest apology I had to make was about working too much. I had become a total cliché — chasing a promotion, staying late at the office, working on the weekends to try to get ahead. And I was neglecting our family. I had total tunnel vision. It went on for a long, long time. When my wife would bring it up, I would twist things around to say how I was ‘doing it for us,’ or whatever. There was a lot to apologize for. I think that’s what made it so hard. Not the actual amount of things I fucked up, but the fact that I had to acknowledge that I was the only one responsible for doing it. I totally lost sight of my priorities, and that was a very difficult thing to admit.” — Sean, 37, Pennsylvania