How to Apologize in a Relationship (and Really Mean It)

Apologies are a funny thing. Everyone likes to get them. When you need to give them, things get tricky. As soon as your ego gets involved, you’re in trouble. And let’s be honest, it always gets involved. Apologizing means admitting you’re wrong, and no one likes to be wrong.

Apologies also force you to be vulnerable with your loved ones, and vulnerability is scary. It means you’re emotionally undressing yourself. You’re opening yourself up to danger (or so we think).

So when it comes to saying “sorry,” you may offer up the white flag in the most non-committal, inauthentic way possible. If you’ve ever said, “I’m sorry, okay?” you know what I’m talking about. Then there are the “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apologies. It’s tough to say which is worse.

Apologies aren’t easy to give but they are one of the most powerful tools for communication at your disposal in any relationship. Apologies allow both parties to feel heard and expressed. They also open up a dialogue for you and your partner to come to a deeper understanding of each other’s feelings. If you get stuck on saying you’re sorry, don’t worry. You’re not alone. These are my favorite tips to get myself to a sincere apology. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Do It In Person
That means no apology texts or voicemails. A genuine apology opens up a dialogue between you and your partner, so that means there needs to be a back and forth. Doing it in person or at least over the phone is essential. (Video works too!) Clear communication is essential in an apology. Don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation, which can lead to more hurt feelings!

Timing is Everything
Apologize as soon as you know you hurt someone. The sooner you apologize the more sensitive your partner will know you are. Part of a relationship is learning your partner’s sensitivities and being in tune with them even when they don’t verbalize a specific need. A quick apology saves the buildup of contempt and shows off your thoughtfulness.

Dig Deep
Don’t apologize only because you know you were in the wrong. Try to empathize with the hurt your actions caused and express your understanding of this pain. Dig deep into the emotional impact of the actions you’re apologizing for. You may uncover wounds and triggers in the process. You may realize that you need to own up for a long-standing negative pattern. Ask yourself why you did the thing you did and be prepared to own up to something deeper than you expected. Being thorough in your apology shows the necessary emotional understanding that will help your relationship heal. Begin with clarity. Clarity will bring authenticity to your apology.

Be Vulnerable
When you’re apologizing to your loved one, remove your ego and speak from the heart. Remember⁠—it’s not about you. It’s about your partner. Don’t make excuses. State why you did what you did. Open the conversation with, I’m sorry, then speak your truth. Remind yourself that you love the person you’re owning up to. Reminding yourself of your connection. You want to fix this wrong for the someone on the other end of it. The more better your partner understands your action the easier it’ll be for them to forgive you.

Listen Up
More than likely your partner wants to communicate their feelings to you. Let them. This isn’t the time to justify your actions. Don’t interrupt or judge. Just listen with an open heart.

Give It Time
In a perfect world, our apologies would be accepted on the spot. But it doesn’t always shake out that way. That’s okay. Respect someone’s time for space. Don’t try to fix the situation so you can feel better. Let them be. In time, they’ll come back ready to forgive. If they don’t, then you know you did the best you could. You can force to fix someone’s pain nor can you force someone to forgive you. Sometimes letting go is the best choice for both.

Have A Plan
If and when your partner forgives you, take time to craft a plan about where you go next. How will you choose to handle similar situations in the future? What can you do to improve communication? Actions speak louder than words, so put into actions what you will do to make amends and that you’re committed to moving forward in a new way.

Apologies are difficult to give, but offering one shows strength of character, integrity, respect, a willingness to be vulnerable, and above all, love, which are all characteristics of a healthy relationship. While forgiveness is not guaranteed, if you can offer an apology from the heart, then you have a good chance of repairing your connection.

Brianne Hogan

Freelance Writer

Brianne is a Canadian freelance writer who’s been writing about dating and relationships longer than any of her relationships. She applies a “do what I say, not do what I do” approach to her articles, and believes you can find Your Person mostly when you aren’t looking. So enjoy your life, and eat lots of cheese (at least that’s her motto). Her byline’s been featured on Thrillist, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Awesomeness TV, among others.

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