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How to Apologize

Tips for giving a sincere, thoughtful apology from a relationship coach

Sara Russell

You hurt someone and now they’re demanding you apologize. You feel bad, but the way they’re coming at you makes you defensive. Plus, it doesn’t seem like anything you say is good enough. 

The fight quickly devolves into a battle for who’s right and who’s a jerk. 

At the end, you’re left licking your wounds and any apology you give feels forced and insincere. 

Maybe you did mess up. Or maybe you just had a different preference or expectation. 

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. 

An apology isn’t about admitting you’re wrong (although it can be). 

An apology is a way of acknowledging you care for your connection with the other person. It’s recognizing that something you did sucked for them and that it matters to you. It’s a way to show compassion and understanding. 

And, if you genuinely f*cked up, it’s a chance to admit that, too. 

Here’s how to apologize successfully:

Get centered

For me, that means dropping into my body: feeling my feet on the earth and weight in my heels, taking deeper breaths and making my body feel larger by getting outside and spreading my arms wide. I create more space around me to be able to hold both my and the other person’s experience. Get your breath and heart rate to normal before jumping into problem solving.

Focus on impact versus intention 

Even when we are trying our best, we’re bound to sometimes let people down. Regardless of our efforts, it’s important to think about our effect on the other person. Trying to convince someone that they shouldn’t be upset misses the point: This is about acknowledging how the other person feels instead of centering yourself.

Validate 

If you’ve ever felt frustrated hearing, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but …” then you know it’s a shitty excuse for an apology. Instead, try to see it from the other person’s side and offer something like, “I imagine that was stressful for you. I know what I did hurt you. If I were you, I’d be really sad, angry and confused.”

Ask “did I miss anything?”

Even our best try at validating can fall short, so this lets the other person share anything else we need to know about their experience.

Ask “what do you need?”

Maybe they want a hug, or some thoughtful words, or space.  Maybe they don’t know, and you can offer something sweet you’d be willing to do, like cook dinner or make them tea. 

Offer a repair

Repairs aren’t about fixing the other person’s feelings. They’re about acknowledging that we did something that didn’t feel good and tipping the scales by doing something nice. 

Give appreciation

It’s helpful to remind each other why we’re willing to do the grueling work of making up rather than giving up and walking away.  Let the other person know why you value having them in your life and why all of the effort is worth it.

In an argument, it’s tempting to want to make someone right and someone wrong—to divide the world into good and bad people, behaviors and beliefs. A sincere, thoughtful apology creates space for both our differences and our desire to be connected.

Sara Russell is a relationship coach. Connect with her on her website and on Instagram. She is also the host of the Trends w/ Benefits podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Header image by Vie Studio via Pexels.

Read more: How to Tame Jealousy

Read more: Breaking the Spell of Specialness

Read more: Goldilocks and the Perfect Partner

Read more: The Trends w/ Benefits Podcast is Back With a New Host and a New Format

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