Wednesday Quotes
The Apology I Owe Her
December 16, 2015

Winslow Homer, Morning Glories

“But in correction, above all avoid anger and bitterness of spirit. Otherwise you may seem to wish not to amend a friend so much as to vent your own spleen. Indeed, I have observed that in reproving friends some people hide their growing bitterness and overflowing rage under the cloak of zeal or frankness. As a result… such correction has done more harm than good.”
Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship

Sometimes it seems that great writers on the moral life have been sitting in my living room. Watching how I act toward my wife.

It’s the line “such correction has done more harm than good” that really gets me. How many times have I thought to myself, “Why is it that people around me find it hard to appreciate my insights into their problems? Even my wife!” How many discussions have turned into arguments, only to end as fights.

Perhaps sometimes I actually have an insight into something that is ‘wrong’ in my wife, and this is part of why I am surprised when sharing it doesn’t go well. But Aelred  points to the key: my correction was an expression of my anger. And my anger did not convey “I love you, and I’m looking out for you.” Rather, it conveyed: “I love me, and I’m looking out for me.”

When selfishness moves me to make what can only be taken as an attack, then battle has been joined. And the casualties are counted in the erosion of trust, and the memory of words that can’t be taken back.

I have failed to act from my love for you. I have been governed by fear and hurt, and my selfishness has overflowed under the cloak of frankness. And worse, I’ll probably do it again.

So I apologize, and I beg your forgiveness. And I resolve that all my words will truly speak to you, that I love you.

St. Aelred (1109-1167) was the abbot of the English Cistercian monastery in Rievaulx. He is most known for his treatise On Spiritual Friendship.

Image: Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910), Morning Glories

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  1. Jodi W., Christendom College parent

    Beautiful reflection and heartfelt words that I share – with my husband, my children, our relatives, and friends.

  2. Every sacramental marriage out there should keep this handy for husband to hand to wife or wife to husband. In our own marital disputes, I always think of Fulton Sheen’s advice about taking criticism about the Church: Do not listen to what they are saying, but rather listen to why they are saying it.

    1. Donna, The Fulton Sheen quotation raises a great issue; he looks at it from the side of the one receiving the correction. If each of us in the discussion strives to speak,and to hear, from love, and also gives the other person the benefit of the doubt… much can be accomplished.

  3. …he looks at it from the side of the one receiving the correction.

    Yes. It’s also easy to forget to see things from from the side of those suffering from the sin that needs corrected. Balancing anger and gentle correction is a real struggle here. Modern culture eschews correction (especially from fathers). So many would-be angry spouses just walk away.

    An extreme example? The Scandal. Some bishops did everything they could to hide behind “gentle” correction (often with good intentions). Balance is key. And often hard to find.

  4. I remain curious as to whether you actually gave this apology to your wife, or just wrote about doing so…

    1. Donna, Before I posted this, I sat down and looked my wife in the eyes and gave her in my own off-the-cuff words this very apology. The genesis of it had been this: I had chosen this quotation to share in this Wednesday Quote, and then the more I thought about Aelred’s words the more I realized that I owe this apology to my wife. So writing the post made most clear to me exactly what i wanted to say, so then i said it…