How To Apologize Effectively & With Sincerity

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How To Apologize Effectively & With Sincerity

In relationships, we hurt one another. Sometimes we do it on purpose, and sometimes we had no idea that we offended our partner. Once we realize that we inflicted pain on them, whether we intend to or not, the correct thing to do is to say, "I'm sorry" and repair the damage. 

How to Apologize Sincerely 

Apologizing can feel extremely difficult, if not impossible. Saying, "I'm sorry" is hard. It makes us feel vulnerable and, in general, is a very challenging enterprise.

RELATED: There's A Right Way To Apologize To Someone You Hurt — Here's How

Before we offer an apology of any kind, we must prepare ourselves for either no response or a wide range of responses from the other person (including negative ones). Depending on the degree or nature of the hurt, it may take your partner awhile to accept your attempt at repairing the relationship. But if you're truly sorry, be prepared for forgiveness to take some time. 

If you're unsure how to apologize in a way that conveys your sincerity, here are 10 powerful ways to do so.

1. Say it with words.

Say the actual words "I'm so sorry" and then add exactly what you are sorry for. Let your spouse know that you're aware of the actions and words that caused the hurt. Name your crime specifically when you say, "I'm sorry."

2. Say it with a look.

Don’t fake remorse because doing so will likely do more damage. When you apologize, make sure you have a genuine look on your face that you really are sorry. 

Saying the words but having a smirk, grin, air of indifference, or some other expression will tell your partner that you are trying to say the right thing, but you don’t mean it.

3. Say it with a touch.

When you know that your partner is ready to hear the words "I'm sorry," add a soft and gentle touch. Don't use a sexual touch, but, rather, a touch that communicates "I care about you, and I want you to be okay."

4. Say it with a note.

Struggle to say the right words? Try writing a note that expresses how you feel about what happened. Convey that you're sorry, and also add a little about how you think your actions may have made your spouse feel. 

Let her/him know that even if it takes some time, you want their forgiveness. Avoid trying to explain why it happened, as that may only do more damage — save that for a later time.

5. Say it with a gift.

A small gift or token can help repair the damage that was done. You can give this gift with a note or when you actually say the words, "I'm sorry." 

Be careful not to overuse this method of making amends, however. You don’t want your partner to think you believe you can buy her/him off with a gift and then repeat your offensive behavior again later.

RELATED: If Someone's Apologies Start With Any Of These 12 Phrases, They're Not Being Sincere

6. Say it with emotion.

When a woman feels hurt, the emotions associated with that hurt get attached to the memory of that event. When something reminds her of the event, the hurt has a way of returning full force, as if the event just happened again. When you say, "I'm sorry" to her, try to do so in a way that has some emotion attached to it.

Note: Using humor is not always a good choice here. She needs to see in your face and hear in your voice (as well as through your words) that you fully understand that you hurt her, you take responsibility for it, and your hope is that you can repair the damage you've done.

7. Say it with an act of service.

Is there a particular task that your partner wants done that you've been putting off? Now might be the perfect time to do it. 

Don't do this as a payoff for your crime or with the expectation that all is forgiven. Just do what you've neglected doing and, later, when you say, "I'm sorry," you can let her know that part of your gift to repair what you have done is that you took care of the task you know she wanted done.

8. Say it with a sacrifice.

If you know that what you did is particularly hurtful to your partner and/or if this is a repeat offense you were determined to never to do again, consider going the "extra mile." Think of something you can do that will either be very meaningful to your partner or would get across the point that you fully recognize the negative impact of your action. 

Take on a task/project that is really going to cost you something in the way of time and energy as a way of "paying for your crime." You can let your partner know that you did this because you're fully aware of the extent of the hurt you caused, and you want it to cost you something so that you never do it again.

9. Say it with understanding.

The point here is to let your partner know you understand some of what he/she may have felt as a result of what you have done. Think through how it might have affected you, but even more, consider how you think your partner felt. 

You know your partner; you know her/his life experiences. Often your partner may feel very differently about what happened than you would based on his/her life experiences, so include that information in your thought process as you prepare to share with her. 

10. Say it with sex.

This is definitely not the first place to go when trying to apologize. However, once you know that the damage is repairing, "make up sex" can be a great way to come back together as a couple and get back to normal living.

Most Important Elements of an Apology

According to a 2016 study, there are six essential elements of an effective apology:

  1. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  2. Offer of repair
  3. Expression of regret
  4. Explanation of what went wrong
  5. Declaration of repentance
  6. Request for forgiveness

What a successful apology comes down to is basically "an acknowledgment of responsibility," explains Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study. "One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. But by saying, 'I'll fix what is wrong,' you're committing to take action to undo the damage," he says.

RELATED: How To Apologize Sincerely When You Hurt Your Partner & 'I'm Sorry' Isn't Enough

Drs. David and Debbie McFadden are a husband-and-wife team specializing in helping struggling and distressed couples throughout the US and Canada. Contact them for a free 20 minute consult to learn about their couples’ intensive program.