Unsafe People Only Apologize Instead of Changing Behavior
by Dr. Henry Cloud
“But he’s really sorry this time,” she said. “When I confronted him with what I knew, he cried and said he was so heartbroken about what he had done. I could tell he was really torn up about it.”
My counselee was referring to her husband, whom she had discovered had been seeing another woman. She was being taken in by his “true pain” over what he had done and his promises never to do it again. However, he had made similar “confessions” countless times before. Each time, he was “so sorry.” He cried and made very short-lived 180-degree turnarounds. This was the fourth time that he had been involved with another woman. And each previous time, he had been “sorry.”
The truth is, however, that sorry is as sorry does. The Bible’s word for this is repentance, and it means a true turnaround. But unlike the “spins” that this man had made, a true turnaround is one that lasts. That does not mean that there is perfect behavior after that point, but that the change is real and that it bears fruit over time.
A wife of a well-known Christian leader once said to me, “I cannot remember in twenty-five years of marriage that I have mentioned something hurtful that my husband did that he ever did again. When he says he is sorry, he means it, and changes.” What a testimony that was!
Repentant people will recognize a wrong and really want to change because they do not want to be that kind of person. They are motivated by love not to hurt anyone like that again. These are trustworthy people because they are on the road to holiness and change, and their behavior matters to them.
People who apologize quickly may act like they are sorry or as if they are interested in holiness, but they are really leading someone on. They may say all the words, and some are taken in by their tears and “sorrow.” But in reality they are more sorry about getting caught. They do not change, and the future will be exactly like the past.
Again, the issue here is not perfection. People who are changing still are not perfect and may sin again. But there is a qualitative change that is visible in people of repentance that does not have to do with guilt, getting caught, or trying to get someone off their back.
The prognosis for change is always better when it is not motivated by a “getting caught” episode, but by real confession and coming to the light about what is wrong. Sometimes, when someone is “caught, he will repent and change, but that repentance can only be tested over time.
The general principle is to look for whether the “repentance” is motivated from outside pressure or from true internal desire to change. Getting caught or adapting to someone’s anger is not a long-lasting motivator. Eventually the motivations must be a hunger and thirst for righteousness and love for the injured.
Taken from Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved.
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