Tips for a good apology

Tips for a good apology

When I watch the news, surf the internet, or scan social media sites, I am often reminded how hard it is to apologize properly.  There are countless examples of celebrities, journalists, politicians, and athletes making mistakes, and then, apologizing poorly.  For our couples therapists in MD, it is no surprise that most of us struggle to apologize meaningfully.

Pride is one of the biggest barriers to apologizing properly.  When we ask for forgiveness, we are acknowledging that something we did caused someone pain, and this can feel like a sign of weakness and a huge blow to our ego.  One way to address this feeling is to change the way we think of making mistakes and asking for forgiveness.  One of my favorite quotes is by Henri Nouwen.  He says: “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.  The hard truth is that all of us love poorly.  We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour – unceasingly.  That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”  What a great reminder that making mistakes and asking for forgiveness is part of being human!

Here are some tips for a good apology from our MD couples therapists:

Be specific.  What exactly are you apologizing for?  Think about the difference between “I’m sorry I’m a bad communicator” and “I’m sorry for not letting you know that I would be late for dinner.”  Unlike the first statement, the second statement acknowledges the specific mistake, and it shows that you take your apology – and your partner’s hurt – seriously.

Take responsibility for your actions.  More often than not, we act badly when we feel bad.  You may have had a rough day at work or are feeling under the weather.  There are so many legitimate reasons why you may have been hurtful, and you should share these with your partner – but, not when you’re apologizing.  Regardless of whether you intended to hurt your partner or not, your behavior caused pain.  It is important to acknowledge that pain in order to move forward.

Acknowledge why your action caused pain.  To do this, you must be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes.  Why was your behavior painful within the context of this relationship?  Was your action a trigger for your partner, or is this a tender spot in your relationship?  If you can connect what you did to the message it sends your partner, you will go a long way in showing your partner that you truly understand him/her.

Identify what you’ll do next time.  How will you react when faced with a similar situation in the future?  It can be helpful for your partner to hear the steps you’ll take to ensure that you don’t repeat the same hurtful behavior.  It is important to remember that none of us are perfect.  Be patient with yourself as you try to learn and practice new behaviors.

When you combine these tips, you’re left with a template for a thoughtful apology, which might look something like this: I am sorry for snapping at you when you asked about my day.  I know it’s important for us to connect after being apart.  In the future, I will try to do a better job of letting you know when I need a few minutes to myself.

What makes it hard for you to apologize?  Do you ever have difficulty forgiving your partner?  Any other tips for a good apology?  Comment below!

Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couple, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. Call us today at (301) 200-5290 to discuss which of our talented, dynamic therapists would be the right fit for you!