Admitting when you are wrong and apologizing to your partner is one of the hardest skills to learn in your relationship. We are filled with pride and defensiveness and it seems impossible to reflect on our own mistakes and not our partners’.
And yet, learning how to apologize is one of the most important things you can do to help build a strong relationship. But how do you apologize productively?
What is apologizing?
Apologizing is the act of showing remorse and regret for something you’ve done wrong. A sincere apology includes identifying what you’ve done wrong, taking responsibility for your actions, and offering to make changes or improvements for the future.
Why is it important to apologize in your relationship?
Learning how to effectively apologize can not only help repair your relationship after conflict but can also strengthen your bond after a dispute.
What are the steps to apologizing?
To apologize effectively, remember the Four R’s: reflection, responsibility, respectfully listening, and revising and improving.
Breaking Down the Steps to an Apology
Reflection requires you to think about your actions that contributed to the problem, even if you are not the only person who made a mistake. Although you may want to focus on external factors or something your partner may have done to lead you to that action, it’s important to specifically reflect on your actions and their consequences.
Here are some questions to ask yourself during this time of reflection:
What role did I play in this conflict? What did I specifically do that caused damage?
How did my actions affect my partner? How might they be feeling after what I did?
What are the consequences of my actions? How does this affect my relationship with my partner?
Taking responsibility for your actions requires remorse and humility. It does not mean taking ownership of what your partner has done or making excuses to justify what you did. To really own your own mistakes, it is important to identify the specific actions you are taking responsibility for and why they may have hurt your partner.
Here are some examples:
I’m sorry for using disrespectful language during our argument. It was hurtful and wrong of me to do so.
I feel terrible for forgetting to pick up what you needed from the store. I can understand how that may have felt like I did not listen to you and I take responsibility for that.
I said I was going to be home for dinner on time and I should have had better communication as soon as I knew I’d be late.
Reflecting on your mistakes and owning up to them is only part of a sincere apology. Once you have apologized, it’s important to give your partner some time to reflect their feelings back to you. When we apologize, we identify the things we’ve done wrong without placing judgment or trying to assume how our partners feel.
Taking some time to actively listen to your partner gives them the opportunity to express how your actions made them feel, so you both can understand circumstances fully and focus on a resolution.
Revise and Improve
Once you have apologized and listened to your partner, you both can come up with ideas on how to improve for the future, coming up with steps and actions items you both can agree to.
In this phase, it’s essential that both you and your partner not only participate, but also agree upon and commit to the changes. This is not an opportunity to minimize the problem or blame each other but rather it is an opportunity for you both to work together to come up with solutions for the future.
What Makes an Apology Ineffective?
A sincere apology can go a long way in mending a damaged relationship while also allowing for improvement. A poor apology, on the other hand, can create more friction and damage. Below are a few examples of what can make an apology bad.
Not Owning up to Your Mistakes
Not taking responsibility and just saying sorry to say sorry is ineffective and does not show your partner that you are sincere.
Dancing Around the Subject
Going down rabbit trails, not sticking to the subject, or ignoring the main issues can make your partner feel like you are not remorseful for your wrongdoings. When apologizing, stick to the event for which you are apologizing and focus on your actions.
Avoid the word but. As in, “I’m sorry I said that, but you made me say it”. Being defensive and deflecting the responsibility to your partner shows that you are not taking ownership of what you did. Yes, your partner may have been in the wrong as well, but that’s an opportunity for them to apologize to you and should not take precedence over your apology to them.
We all make mistakes and some things are brought on by factors outside of our control. However, just because something may have caused you to do something wrong, it doesn’t mean that your partner was not hurt by your actions. Avoid making excuses and focus on what you did wrong and how you can improve in the future.
Backhanded Statements or Apologies
Backhanded apologies are those that shift responsibility to your partner. Below are a few examples.
“I’m sorry what I did made you feel like that.”
“I’m sorry you weren’t prepared for me being late.”
“I’m sorry you misunderstood me.”
The above examples don’t focus on what you did wrong, but instead shift the blame to your partner. Instead, focus on what you have done.
Common Myths About Apologizing
Forgiveness Should be Automatic
Forgiveness takes time and isn’t always guaranteed. Be respectful and patient with your partner. Trying to force someone to forgive you can damage the relationship further and can break trust. Even though it may take time, it doesn't mean you shouldn’t apologize.
Love Means Never Having to Say Sorry
Apologizing is especially important with someone you love. It shows that you care for their feelings and are focused on strengthening and investing in your relationship with them.
Saying “I’m Sorry” is All You Need
The words “I’m sorry” do not mean a thing if they are hollow and do not include an attempt to change behavior in the future. A sincere apology requires remorse and an attempt to learn from the mistake.
Apologizing is a Sign of Weakness
It takes bravery, empathy, humility, and respect to admit when you are wrong. Taking responsibility shows you are strong enough to admit your mistakes and grow your relationship.
If My Partner is Wrong, I Shouldn’t Apologize Until They Do
If you both have wronged, it doesn’t mean you should wait until your partner apologizes first. Apologizing isn’t about winning or one-upping your partner. It’s about showing remorse and working together to improve.
Apologizing is a key component of growth in your relationship and it’s something you’ll need to continuously improve upon. It also requires you to be accepting of your partner apologizing, remember that it isn’t always easy to do so.
Identifying the steps and committing to apologizing can help you both identify and resolve conflict more effectively in the future.