"I'm really sorry. I was totally wrong."

Ahhh. The words we love to hear—the words of apology. If you'll only say them, I'll totally forgive you and we can move forward. Just say them and I'll stop sulking, snarling and glaring. Please just say them.

Of course, Spouse is thinking the very same thoughts. Why don't you apologize for once? Why do I always have to be the one? I'm not doing it this time. I'm not crawling to you to ask for forgiveness. You ask me for forgiveness and then we can move forward. Just as soon as you do it, I'll stop stonewalling. Please just ask.

And so marital harmony is set aside while husband and wife wait to see who will be the first to capitulate. Admitting error seems overwhelming to us, as if something terrible will happen along with the acknowledgment of our human imperfection. Even when we do manage to admit to a wrong doing, we often excuse ourselves in the same breath: "Maybe I did say some unkind words, but that was totally your fault. If you hadn't insulted me first I wouldn't have retorted in kind!" We can't acknowledge that we just behaved badly because we just did. Somehow, such acknowledgment is too threatening, too diminishing. It seems as if we are acknowledging that we're essentially flawed and therefore undeserving to be included in human society.

"My bad" – the glib phrase uttered by teens to acknowledge fault – keeps friendships intact with minimal suffering. They don't mind being "bad"—in fact, it might even be kind of cool. "My bad—I parked the car illegally and got a ticket." "My bad—I forgot to bring you the money I owe you." "My bad—I haven't returned your book to the library yet." Although the response doesn't necessarily work so well on their parents ("My bad—I forgot to take the garbage out again…") it does have an unpretentious air about it. It seems to say, "I'm human. I make mistakes. What else is new?" What a healthy attitude! Why should it disappear when we get married?

If we grownups could adopt the self-accepting attitude that the younger people display, we could be more at peace with ourselves and our spouse. By accepting ourselves as a mistake-making-species, we can simply step up to the plate without experiencing overwhelming shame. Moreover, our gentle acceptance of our own errors can help us develop a gentle attitude toward the mistakes of significant others. The Torah teaches us that our great leaders and sages all made mistakes—it was part of their growth process. We can't grow, however, if we can't face our own errors. Pretending that we're perfect stops us from seeing what needs correction and taking steps to improve. On the other hand, examining ourselves after a problematic marital interaction can provide plenty of opportunity for growth. Skip the obvious misbehavior of your spouse and use the conflict to move yourself to a higher level. Ask yourself: "What was my role in that unpleasant communication? What could I have done differently?" Don't do your spouse's growth work—do your own. Once you've discovered a flaw or two, own up to your imperfect behavior. As long as your admissions of error are followed by signs of improvement, your spouse will learn to welcome and trust them.

Apologies can be short and sweet. "It seems I forgot to take care of that matter you asked me to tend to. I'm so sorry." "I know I spoke to you improperly earlier. I'm really sorry." "I shouldn't have hung up on you. That was wrong." If a spouse responds poorly to a partner's acknowledgment of error, a gentle reminder of the spouse's human qualities should suffice. "I realize that you're upset and that you feel let down and I promise I'll try and do better in the future. Please accept my apologies and I'll accept yours when you make mistakes. We're all human and we will do things wrong but then we can work on ourselves to improve."

Make space in your marriage for mistakes. In fact, if you have kids, make space in your home for mistakes! Let it be "no big deal" when you or anyone else does something wrong. Rather, focus your attention on correction and redirection, attempting to learn from errors in order to improve. After a while, you'll see mistakes for what they really are—your friends. Each error is a stepping stone up the spiritual ladder. So take advantage of all your errors, use them to help you become all that you can be. "It's my fault" can be your key to greatness.