I will take my guess, but this is based on my experience in over 20 years of marriage, and not on a professional background.
I will warn you: I believe in apologizing for actions that are wrong, regardless of how they’re interpreted. Show disrespect is wrong, even if the other person chooses not to take offense. Likewise, I don’t apologize when someone gets upset when I did nothing wrong. I’m perfectly willing to amend my actions when I realize that a certain action carries a certain meaning with them, of course I express regret that they felt hurt, but I don’t apologize for not being a mind-reader.
I tell any couple this when they ask for advice: “When you’re wrong, apologize, even if you’re not the most wrong.” The person who is the most wrong usually has the hardest time apologizing. If I can apologize, it is as much a blessing to myself as to my husband. It frees me from the need to be defensive. I find the experience of being defensive very uncomfortable. Apologizing also takes me off the offensive, which makes his apology much easier to deliver and take the wind out of counter-attacks. On that account, whoever ought to apologize and can apologize *should *apologize, without taking into account whether someone else is more wrong.
Take this piece of warning, though: A real apology is not contingent on the idea that a counter-apology is forthcoming. If you apologize, look for forgiveness, and nothing more. Do not trade big-heartedness for score-keeping. It is a very bad trade. Do not try to act big-hearted when you are really smaller-hearted. If you give expecting applause and get none, a stingy heart will suffer wounded pride. Rather, give what you have to give, but don’t give beyond your means, hoping to be repaid enough to cover the emotional bill you’ve run up in yourself. That is poison to a marriage.
When you run into someone who immediately leaps to make excuses for themselves and who cannot bear the thought of being wrong, you deal with it by figuring out “Why does she do that?” Does she do it because she does not feel safe being wrong? Does she have a need to think she is perfect? Does she do it in order to have superior bargaining power? Does she do it because your wording leads her the conclusion that you are making a personal attack? If you know where the minefield is that sets off the excuses, sometimes you can head off excuses by starting out with a caveat that protects the vulnerable place that the excuses are protecting. Should you have to do that? I don’t know. Should you have to treat a wolf differently than a dog? What is, is. If you have a wolf, treat it like a wolf. Maybe it is not fair that you don’t have a dog, but keeping your fingers makes the realization and adjustment more than worth it.
For instance, let us say that you criticize her with statements like “You always…” or “You are such a…” rather than “When you did A (one event that’s under discussion, not her as a person), I became upset because it resulted in B.” You are also talking about how you took it, which cannot be argued with, rather than assessing blame, which can easily become a subject of dispute. Besides, you’re complaining about the one event, not her as a person. If she tries to move it off the one event, you are on ground to move it back, to deal with one specific complaint that you have. Second, you have framed the question in terms of how to avoid “B”. You aren’t making it about her imperfection. You are making it about how to avoid future occurences of “B”. This will help you keep the conversation on the issue that needs to be addressed.
Another warning: we have a ironic statement we use around our house to snap ourselves back into perspective: “IN ANY CRISIS, THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT ORDER OF BUSINESS IS TO CORRECTLY ASSESS BLAME.” This is of course nonsense, but it is how we often act in a crisis. What is instead important is to correct the crisis, then do a de-briefing to keep it from happening again. Were I you, I would choose to address her listening issue, and let the apology thing go. Let’s face it: If she learns to listen, that is its own apology. An apology without listening is far less valuable.
By this method, before long you can use what air safety experts call “near miss reporting”. You can report nasty mistakes that you made that almost lead to a disaster. The goal here is to figure out how to put in fail-safes so that one nasty mistake won’t lead to that disaster. Does one person have a bad habit of leaving the back gate open, so the dog can get out? It is good to figure out a way to instill a good habit in its place, fine. But maybe there should also be back-up habits, like checking the status of the back gate whenever the dog is let out. The important thing is to keep the dog in. Rather than beat up on the person with the lousy memory, you say, “OK, we have a dog, we have person with a lousy memory, how do we keep those two things from combining to make a disaster?” The thing is, if you have a safe atmosphere for “near miss” reporting, there will be much less need for excuses.
But is this fair, that you have to do all of this and she doesn’t? We have another saying at our house: Life is not “fair.” Life is good. If you think about it, life can’t be both. Thank the Lord things are as they are, because a good life is much better than a fair one.
If you change the atmosphere surrounding how mistakes and poor habits are dealt with, iyou may do a lot to get rid of excuses and replace those excuses with lasting changes that will prevent a recurrence. That is the main thing.
Finally: Be generous, realizing that your spouse will always falls short of you in some respects, remembering that she undoubtedly exceeds you in respects that you appreciate less. The Lord could have allowed you to marry someone far worse. Take the package as a package, and give thanks. That will get you a lot of mileage, too.