An apology needs to validate feelings, show accountability, and give assurance it won't happen again
You screwed up. You inadvertently stepped on your sweetheart’s toes. Or you were in a foul mood and behaved accordingly. Or you were a knucklehead and said or did the wrong thing. Now it’s time to make amends. You know from experience that simply saying, “I’m sorry!” doesn’t cut it even if you really are sorry. So, how do you express regret in a way that your sweetie not only gets it, but is willing to forgive you?
First and foremost, don’t bother to apologize unless you really mean it. Nothing adds more insult to injury than a fake, just-saying-this-to-shut-you-up apology. The only real apology is a genuine apology.
For a forgive-me to be heard and accepted your sweetie has to believe that you understand what you did and how it made him or her feel or it’s as meaningless as the apologies little kids are forced to give when they snatch a crayon away from another little kid. The best way to do that is to recount the event, show an awareness of what happened, and acknowledge the damage. For example:
“When we were at Bill and Linda’s house for dinner and you were telling the story about having your pocket picked on our trip, I interrupted you and corrected you several times. That was rude and inconsiderate. I fully understand that I embarrassed you and that my behavior was inappropriate. I should have kept my big mouth shut and let you tell the story your way. From now on, I’m going to try harder to bite my tongue. I love you and I’m very sorry I embarrassed you and hurt your feelings.”
This type of apology:
- Acknowledges and validates your sweetheart’s feelings;
- Shows that you take accountability for your actions; and
- Gives your sweetheart assurance that it won’t happen again because you’ve expressed awareness of what you should have done.
Once you have given a genuine apology, the ball is now in your sweetheart’s court. Forgiveness may depend in large part on your history. If you’ve apologized in the past for the same behavior, your sweetie may have a more difficult time accepting your apology—again. You see, forgiveness isn’t unconditional. It comes with the tacit (or express) understanding that the forgiven behavior won’t be repeated. A surefire way to have your apologies accepted is to have a good track record.
If you’ve made a genuine apology but your sweetheart isn’t ready to accept and, instead, wants you to jump through a few even-the-score hoops, be careful. Answer questions if your sweetheart has them, repeat your apology if necessary, fill in what may have been missing the first go ‘round, but don’t grovel. You do not need to sacrifice your dignity by begging, pleading, and hoop jumping. That’s likely to lead to a bitter argument and resentment.
Reconciliation takes two: one to apologize and one to forgive. Remember that the next time your sweetheart needs your forgiveness. If you want your sweetie to be generous with forgiveness, you do the same.