A Portland Marriage Counselor Explains How to Apologize

May 11, 2016 by


Two of the hardest words to say are “I’m sorry.” But, as an adult, we need to be able to let down our guard and apologize. There are many reasons people try to avoid saying “I’m sorry.” Maybe they don’t want to seem weak. Maybe they don’t want to deal with confrontation. Or maybe they just hate the thought of having to admit they’re wrong.

But guess what? We’re not perfect! We make mistakes. We hurt people’s feelings – accidentally and intentionally. And when we do that – especially to people we love and care about – we have to take responsibility for what we’ve done and say we’re sorry.

Here are some tips to help you apologize properly and sincerely to your partner – or anyone else who deserves an apology from you.

  1. You actually have to say, “I’m sorry.” This one might seem obvious, but so many people think they are apologizing even though they never actually say those two words. A simple “my bad” might be okay in certain situations, but it doesn’t have the same connotation as “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” The actual words just mean more. And if you’ve hurt your partner or inconvenienced them, don’t you want to show that you are truly sorry?
  2. Empathize. If you’ve offended, hurt, or wronged someone, put yourself in their shoes. How did your actions, words, or lack of actions and words affect your loved one? What was it like for them? How were they feeling? By empathizing with them, you might be able to avoid hurting them again (and avoid having to apologize) in the future.
  3. Learn how to apologize. Even though saying “I’m sorry” is necessary, you can’t just leave it at that. You have to give a little more. The steps to a genuine apology could include:
    • Expressing regret
    • Accepting responsibility
    • Righting your wrong
    • Admitting that you want to change
    • Asking for forgiveness
  4. Don’t undermine your apology. Sometimes when we apologize, we might try to place a little of the blame on the person we hurt or make excuses. “I’m sorry, but…” or “I’m sorry you’re hurt” can be seen as passive aggressive and insincere. Don’t do that. If you’re going to apologize, really do it and really mean it. Something else to avoid? Explaining. The apology is what matters, not why you messed up. Explanations can feel like excuses.
  5. Don’t unnecessarily apologize. Stop saying sorry all the time. Many people –frequently women –say they’re sorry for things that don’t require an apology. You don’t have to apologize when someone bumps into you, when you need help, or when you want to express your opinions. “I don’t agree with that,” doesn’t need to be prefaced with an “I’m sorry, but.” Simply tell someone you don’t agree. If you want to say something, just say it.

    Apologizing  is hard. But that doesn’t mean we get a free pass. We have to do difficult things all the time, and telling someone that you’re sorry might just be one of those things. But when we’ve hurt someone, we need to rip the Band-Aid off in one fell swoop – suck it up, admit we were wrong, and say those two sincere and heartfelt words.

If you and your partner need help saying “I’m sorry” or want to discuss any other marital issue, a Portland marriage counselor can help. Reach out to me today.