How NOT to Apologize to Your Partner


Did you mess up in your relationship? Here's how NOT to say "I'm sorry"

We all make mistakes in our relationship from time to time.

They can range in severity from forgetting to take out the trash to lying about using the nearly maxed out credit card or from spacing out your anniversary to having an online affair. When you're in a love relationship or marriage, both of you will periodically say or do the “wrong” thing.

Hurt feelings and disconnection result. The future of your relationship may even hang in the balance because of what you said or did.

If making up and re-connecting are important to you, then you're going to want to apologize to your partner in an effective way. A sincere apology is an absolutely essential starting point for turning around the mistake and possibly for turning around an unhealthy habit that you and your partner may have fallen into.

Let's be clear here...

If all you do is apologize-- even in a heartfelt way-- you're not going to see much improvement. Merely an apology that's followed up with more of the same insensitive, neglectful or hurtful behavior will do nothing to help you and your partner make up.

It's definitely true that actions speak louder than words. But, words matter too.

There are a several ways that you probably do NOT want to apologize if re-connecting is your priority. Here are a few examples...

Don't use gifts as an apology.

The word on celebrity blogs is that Ashton Kutcher tried to apologize to his wife (for now) Demi Moore for his cheating by giving her an expensive car. We can't know if this is absolutely true and, if it is true, we can't imagine why Kutcher would do this.

It didn't work for him and it won't work for you.

Don't try to “buy” your way out of the mess that you made. Gifts are meant to be expressions of love and care and not attempts to absolve you from responsibility for your mistake. If you want to give your partner a gift, wait until you two have worked through whatever has happened and then choose something that feels right to you.

Again, gifts are not a useful way to give an apology. Take ownership for your actions and offer to make amends for what you've done.

If you are having a hard time talking face-to-face with your partner about how sorry you are, then write it down in a letter. Do whatever you can do to let this person you love know how sorry you are and what you will do to turn things around.

Don't offer a guilt-induced apology.

If you want to undercut your apology, then deliver it from a place of guilt. If the only reason why you are saying “I'm sorry” is because you think that you “should” or that you “have to,” then back up.

Your partner will know that you aren't sincere when you give him or her a guilt-induced apology. It shows, so don't do this.

Take the time to go within and get in touch with how you feel about what you did. If you don't think you've made a mistake, try to see the situation from your partner's point of view. If you have no clue what your partner's point of view is, ask.

You could use words like, “Please help me to understand why you are upset by _____.”

If after looking again at what happened you still don't think you are in the wrong, then maybe an apology is not appropriate. You might decide to communicate something else to your partner instead.

Whether an apology is what you say or some other words, make sure you are being sincere and honoring the truth as you see it.

Don't get defensive.

A back-handed apology will get you and your relationship nowhere. In tense situations, what sometimes happens is that one person will say to the other something like this...

“I'm sorry that I yelled. I wouldn't have been angry if you hadn't done that!”

If all you are going to do is transfer blame to your partner for how you reacted or for what you did, then it really doesn't count as an apology. You might as well have not said the words “I'm sorry” in the first place.

It is beneficial to calm down before offering an apology. Remember to breathe deeply and more slowly. Look most of all at what you said or did. There are often dynamics at work in a relationship when agreements get broken or feelings get hurt. Don't ignore what you perceive your partner's role in this was, but at the same time, don't make that your only focus.

When you communicate with your partner about what happened, acknowledge it all and make sure your apology is centered on you taking responsibility for what YOU said or did.

Don't apologize until you understand what you did and why.

We've saved possibly the most important “don't” for last. All of the advice we've given you up to this point is really reliant on this one.


Have the courage to really look at what you said or did and figure out what motivated you. It's going to be far more difficult to offer a heartfelt apology or to follow through with meaningful action if you don't understand why you made the mistake you did.

If you are reacting from the past or from resentments that have built up, acknowledge that to yourself. If your mistake was motivated by unmet needs or a perceived lack in your relationship or some other area of your life, acknowledge it.

This isn't about making excuses, this is about figuring out what contributed to you making the choice you did which had negative effects in your relationship. Until you know what's behind your mistake, you can't make significant changes and truly make amends.

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When you are mindful about what is true for you and also about what you need, you can honestly and authentically offer your partner an apology that can open the door to healing and re-connection.
Susie and Otto Collins are relationship coaches who help couples communicate, connect and create the relationship they desire. They are authors of several relationship advice books including the ebook Magic Relationship WordsClick here to get their free report: "10 Communication Secrets for Creating a Lifetime of Love."