Does Our Culture Think Only Husbands Need to Apologise?

Searching for images for our blog posts can be interesting, instructive, and sometimes discouraging. Certain  ideas just don’t get covered while there are thousands of images for other ideas. We also see places where there are gender-based double standards.  

I had this happen when I was looking for an image for Monday’s 3 Ways an Apology Can Go Wrong. I wanted a picture of a woman making an apology to a man. After several search terms and dozens of pages, I gave up. Had I wanted the reverse, a man apologising to a woman, I would have had a great many images from which to choose.

Does Our Culture Think Only Husbands Need to Apologise?

Most of the images of men apologising were like the one above – the man begging and the women acting as if it’s not enough or what he did was so bad he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. The message I got was men are horrible scum and women do them an unmerited favour by just being around them. 

Is this what our culture teaches us? Do we see men as relationally inept and hopeless? Are women so much better at relationships they’re doomed to be forever disappointed and endlessly offended?

Lest you think this is just me, or just a male thing, after scheduling this post but before I wrote it, I came across The two most dangerous assumptions women make about relationships by Shaunti Feldhahn. I don’t think all women are guilty of what she talks about, but I’ve certainly seen it and I could point to marriages hurt or destroyed by the wrong assumptions Shaunti warns about.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and sometimes men get the short end of double standards.

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19 Comments on “Does Our Culture Think Only Husbands Need to Apologise?

  1. I think it also represents how much more hurt women feel than men. I would safely guess that the vast majority of women bear some hurt, wound, or fear of men in general…justified or not. Many of us would live to hear one collective, ” I am sorry,” from men. Sorry for what? Objectification, abuse, selfishness, lust, misogyny, discrimination, intimidation, mansplaining, unbiblical patriarchy…..

    Again, I am not saying this is how it is, men suck. I am saying women are hurting and the deeply hurt don’t feel they have anything to apologise for.

    Ironically, in abusive relationships, often it is the abused who apologises and tries to make things right while the abuser refuses to see their part…and men abusing women is a much higher statistic than the reverse.

    • @Libl – I’m going to have to disagree strongly – but hopefully kindly. I’m not downplaying the wounding women have from men, but men also have wounds from women.
      A lot of this goes back to childhood. While it’s changing a bit, for most of history, mom was a child’s primary parent in the early years. If a mom had a problem with men, she might take it out on her helpless son. That can be huge and can haunt a man for life if he doesn’t deal with it.
      As for abuse, it’s not what we think. Women physically abusing their husband is far more common than we hear because so few men are willing to report it. Women also emotionally abuse their husbands. The CDC says More Men than Women Victims of Partner Abuse ( Other studies find more women abused, but either way, the numbers are rather close.
      The picture above is a perfect example of the victim apologising you mention – and it’s a culturally accepted image!
      Many years ago my girlfriend’s mother said I apologised too much. I, of course, said “I’m sorry” to that. But she was right. I did apologise for everything, especially to women. I had been taught my gender made me bad and wrong and I was desperately trying to avoid getting in trouble. I’m glad I had worked through much of that when Lori and I met, because it’s not a good basis for a marriage.
      Again, none of this is to diminish the valid points you made. I just want you to hear it’s not one sided.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Is Your Intimate Life Properly Covered?My Profile

      • Paul, thank you for your kindness in your rebuttal. I don’t doubt for a moment about what you say, and sadly, too, men are often brutally victimized by other men!!

        However, my husband can walk down the road and not hear one sexist remark and never fear for his well-being. I can’t run to the grocery store without being stared at. I have nearly been hit by cars of guys either trying to scare me or get a closer look. Not one male in my wide circle has been inappropriately touched, yet most of the women in that same circle has been, and a decent percentage of them have either been raped or rape was attempted. I only know one man who has been physically abused by his wife, but several of my female friends have been. More have been emotionally abused. I really do think the overall, throughout history and still including today’s world the number of women used and abused and hurt by men is FAR greater than the reverse.

        • @Libl – It’s worse for women, especially in public, no doubt.

          I bet more than one of your male friends has been inappropriately touched. Not nearly as many as women, but men don’t talk about it. This is even more true for spousal abuse – men don’t admit it because it makes them feel unmanly. That, and they don’t expect to be believed because “everyone knows it’s worse for women”. For all of history I have no doubt it’s worse for women. For right now in western nations it may be worse for husband’s.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Is Your Intimate Life Properly Covered?My Profile

      • Libl
        I get that women may have had repeated encounters w male dominant culture and may feel they have been diminished by it.

        In my view it stops being relevant once inside the home. Relevance in the home applies only to the husband/wife dynamic and history. Spouses who drag the outside encounters into the their personal relationship risk alienation of the spouse.

        • Unless you are married to a misogynist.

          But you do bring up a point. I notice that if I read an article about men behaving badly (a college frat rape case, a child abuser being caught, a local dignitary getting caught with child porn in his computer) I get into my, “I hate men” mode and find it hard to be with hubby.

          Getting off this tangent and back to the article, I can say this article hits a sore spot because my husband almost never apologizes. Oh, he does for little things, like accidentally bumping into me. But I can only recall two times in our marriage that he apologized for some real biggies.

          I had to seek counseling to learn how to forgive someone who isn’t sorry.

          Overall, though, I don’t want an apology. I am beyond that right now. I want repentance, a Godly change of heart and renewal of mind. Forget me and my hurt feelings. I just want Christ front and center in our lives and marriage.

          • When I was a new teacher, one or a few students would be consistently obnoxious and disruptive. My inexperienced reaction was to get angry with the entire class, out of my frustration. Even if it was most of the class that were problematic, I had to learn to separate the guilty from the innocent. What mad me able to do that was remembering a junior high science teacher who would punish the entire class for bad behavior, even though at least a few kids were not guilty.

            This is really no different. I totally understand these women, having been the victim of sexual abuse as a boy. And having been on the receiving end of gatekeeping and refusal, I understand hurt. But a husband and wife should be able to deal with each other as individuals, not as part of a class.

            You want “one collective ‘I’m sorry’ from men”? From which men? In what format? Full page ads in the paper? Personal apology rallies? This treating each other as groups instead of individuals, really can hurt our relationships. And I’m quite sure that no amount of apologizing will satisfy some people.

            Your husband is a misogynist? Don’t blame me! I’ve had to apologize to my wife many times, and no doubt will need to do so in the future. And she has had to apologize to me. And we have forgiven each other, as individuals, not as representatives of a group.

            There is plenty of real guilt to go around, and I’m so glad that Jesus bore mine on the cross. But please don’t stereotype me as one of those men who stereotypes women. We need to cut out all double standards and broad brushing. General tendencies and patterns are just that: general.

    • I thnk the idea of what I would call “group hurt” is illegitimate. In “The Problem of Pain” C. S. Lewis gives the following scenario: if person A feels X amount of pain, and person B is also feeling X amount of pain, we could say that there is now 2X pain in the room. But nobody is actually experiencing 2X amount of pain.

      Please don’t talk about the hurt “women” feel caused by “men”. That’s like saying “people” are like that. This is akin to the process that deems me personally responsible for the ills of millions, simply because I’m a middle-aged, middle class married white man.

      Personal hurt is caused by specific persons. Yes, there are sex differences and tendencies, but please don’t broad brush.

  2. Hmmm. I have definitely heard jokes on sitcoms and even among friends about wives never saying they were sorry, so I don’t think it’s exclusively a male thing. I think both sexes have issues with the other being stubborn or inconsiderate.

    However, I read Shaunti Feldman’s thing, and I just disagree. I agree that insisting on doing communication my way and only my way is inherently destructive — but I don’t know that most relationships get to that point. One person (most commonly the husband) simply shuts down all communication from the get-go. The frustration that the wife expressed was that her husband got angry and then shut down for hours — no communication of any kind, no openness, no relating. Maybe her attempts at reaching out to him were wrong, but he’s not giving her any feedback to change. And it really really really doesn’t help for Shaunti Feldman to take “my husband gets angry and shuts down” and then to twist that to the wife offending the husband (re-loading the dishwasher because he did it wrong) and then berating him for not responding graciously to her offending him (he should just understand….)

    In Shaunti Feldman’s example, the husband was 100% wrong. It doesn’t matter that the wife had the apparently unreasonable expectation for him to talk to her. That is what Gottman calls “stonewalling,” and when you’re defending stonewalling and attacking someone for trying to communicate, you are giving bad advice.

    • @sunny-dee, I also read Shaunti’s article and mostly agree with you. Based on the example used, I don’t know how she can automatically conclude the 2 assumptions.

      Ironically, a big problem with these types of examples is the author makes a lot of her own assumptions and then tries to make a point based on them. This is dangerous because we don’t know the whole story. We only heard the wife’s version, which may or may not be accurate. We also don’t know what the wife has or hasn’t done to contribute to her husband shutting down when he gets angry.

      I don’t necessarily disagree with Shaunti’s point about the 2 assumptions women make, but I don’t think her example was good. It was too vague and Shaunti then made assumptions based on her limited information.

    • @sunny-dee – Some of those husbands who seemed to shut down communication early on would tell you they tried and failed and decided if their choices were her way or not at all they would go for not at all. I don’t think they made the right choice, but I understand why they did what they did, and I know some of them would never have gotten her past it – at least not back then.

      A lot of this comes down to gender differences. He’s giving feedback his male friends would get loud and clear. His wife, being female, doesn’t get it – which is not her fault.

      BTW, loading the dishwasher wrong is an interesting one. Did he load it in a way that would reduce it’s effectiveness (certainly possible) or did he load it in a perfectly functional way that was different than how she would load it? Sometimes different is not wrong!

      And for the record, I’m never for stonewalling. Which I would say is what the woman in the picture above is doing!
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Is Your Intimate Life Properly Covered?My Profile

  3. IMO, this is a cultural stereotype similar to the sex after marriage stereotypes. It is displayed all over media in the same ways. Usually, with the males being silly and messing up while the wives are the “rational ones” who need the apologies. Just like the sex after marriage stereotypes, if there weren’t some truth to it, it wouldn’t make good comedy.

    Fortunately, my husband and I are both fairly quick to apologize when necessary. However, he is usually quicker to apologize than me. My hesitance to apologize when I know I’ve done something wrong is usually because I don’t feel like I’m being heard. I feel like if I apologize before being completely heard, he will never hear me because he is ready to move on. I usually want some resolution before apologizing. I would assume this is true for many women and may be a reason some women don’t want to apologize when they should.

    I also think males want peace in their home and with their wife, so they may be willing to apologize too quickly or when they shouldn’t just to quiet their wife. In this case, they are playing the role of peacekeepers instead of peacemakers. That usually doesn’t go well in the long run.

    On a slightly different, but related note:
    Another problem is different situations require different types of apologies and sometimes require more than an apology. For example, “I forgot to pick up the milk on my way home.” is not on the same level as “I missed my child’s recital because I was playing video games and lost track of time.” And “I’ve been watching porn for the last decade” is in another category altogether. A simple “I’m sorry” should be sufficient for the first example as long as it’s not something that happens all the time. Missing a child’s event requires more than an “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” is what we say when we accidentally step on a stranger’s foot, not what’s appropriate for neglecting your child’s event or hurting your spouse deeply. The same is true for women. Forgetting to wash your husband’s work shirt is not on the same level as going on a shopping spree when you don’t have the money. These two things don’t warrant the same type of apology or restitution. My point is we tend to lump things into one category when sometimes we shouldn’t. In this article and the one you wrote Monday, I assume you are talking more about the little things daily things we need to apologize and take responsibility for.

    Recently, I’ve had to tell my husband to quit apologizing for the years of refusing sex and watching porn. I know he is deeply sorry and regretful for both of these things. What I need him to understand is I still need to talk about things as part of my continued healing and because of how these events impact things that happen now. I don’t want him to tell me he’s sorry every time we talk about it or to continue to beat himself up for hurting me. I want to be able to tell him how I’m feeling and know that he is hearing my needs. When I try to talk to him and he apologizes over and over, it is actually quite upsetting and makes me feel like I can’t talk to him. I feel like he’s making it more about him and his needs than mine. I don’t need more apologies, I just need to be heard. (Just thought I throw this in since you mentioned over-apologizing.)

    • @K – “I also think males want peace in their home and with their wife, so they may be willing to apologize too quickly or when they shouldn’t just to quiet their wife.”

      Yup, that’s a big problem. If a man has been taught he is usually wrong, he may fall into that more easily.

      I agree some things are way past a simple apology. And, I’ve seen men and women use an apology as an attempt to end discussion of something. Not a good tactic, IMHO.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Is Your Intimate Life Properly Covered?My Profile

      • What is it we are taught? “Happy wife, happy life”, right? So, go along to get along, and if that means shutting up, so be it.

        As to your basic premise about women not apologizing, your post brought to mind this paragraph from Love & Respect:

        “What I see happening in some marriages is that the wife believes–or appears to believe–that she does not sin. In many other marriages the only sin that a wife will readily admit to is her negative reactions to her husband’s failure to be loving or losing patience with the children. Beyond these areas, women do not see themselves as sinning, even thought they readily admit bad habits and wrong attitudes. They write these off to chemical imbalance, hormonal problems, or dysfunction due to family of origin.”

        btw – I decided to replicate your search, googling “apology” “images” and found that you are correct. An alternative search was recommended, “A Woman’s Apology”, and it turned up this phrase from innumerable sources: “I’m sorry, but it was your fault.” Telling, huh?


  4. There definitely should be two kinds of “apology.” One is for sin. You say, “I was wrong; will you forgive me?” “I’m sorry” is for everything else. Someone mentioned repentance. What is repentance? Does it mean that we never do that thing again? If so, I should be perfect by now. I’ve been repenting for over 50 years. I believe that to repent means that at that point we would wish to never do that thing again. But we are weak and will, in many cases, commit that sin again. Hopefully, we do it less and less frequently until we gain complete victory.

    If you want your husband to talk to you, you must do it his way. I’m not being difficult; I’m being pragmatic. It is the only way that he can. Seriously! TRY this: Sit down so that you are not facing each other. Do not try to establish eye contact. Right at the start tell him that you are not going to interrupt him. Let him talk until he is finished. Ask him a question and wait until he has completed his answer until you ask the next question. When you ask a question, give him some time to think out his answer. Women tend to talk their way to their answer. Men think their way to their answer and then speak it. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised. Most of the time when men “shut down” it is because they are frustrated. They have paused to think of their answer; the wife has interrupted repeatedly and they aren’t allowed to think or finish their answer. You can’t talk to a man like you talk to a woman and expect the same result.

    • @Charlie O – I think most men can learn to communicate more female, but in the vast majority of marriages this is harder and less successful than women learning to communicate more male. There are some biological differences here that make it easier for women.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Is Your Marriage As Good As You Think?My Profile

      • I think that the best policy is as follows: When a man wants to communicate with his wife, they do it on her terms. When a wife wants to communicate with her husband, it is on his terms. If he’s asking for answers, then she gives them her way. When she wants answers, then it is his way. I’m not even sure that it is possible for a man to give a cogent answer when he is being repeatedly interrupted. Even though they think that they want it, I don’t believe that most women really want to hear their husbands think out loud like they do. It makes him seem undecided and unsure of himself.

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