“Successful relationships master the art of apology”
– The Gottman Institute
There is no such thing as a perfect partnership. However strong and stable your relationship may be, it inevitably stumbles from time to time. Disagreements happen, careless words might be said, anger might be expressed inappropriately, insensitivity manifested, or trust broken. Whatever it is, harm has been done and feelings got hurt.
Making mistakes is what makes us humans. But when you’ve hurt your partner, knowing the right way to apologize makes all the difference. True apologizes strengthen, not diminish your relationship.
Obviously, some mistakes are bigger than others, and sometimes saying sorry is not enough. Knowing you’ve hurt the one you love feels awful. You might become frustrated when it seems like whatever you do makes things worse. It is easy to feel hopeless when you simply don’t know what to do to fix things.
Apologizing to your partner and healing your relationship involves more than just saying “I’m sorry”. Let’s see what you can do to effectively start reconnecting again after you’ve hurt your partner.
Offer Sincere Apology
Okay, this sounds like an obvious one, but it’s important to highlight what an honest apology really is.
Genuine apology is directed toward your partner’s hurt and possibly healing the damage your actions have caused, not necessarily on getting forgiveness. If your main reason for saying sorry is to get things back to normal as soon as possible and enjoy the beauty of your relationship again, your apology is not sincere and might even make things worse. Chances are high that your partner will recognize your apology as manipulative, you will get frustrated pretty quickly and things will escalate again, damaging your relationship even further.
So, before you apologize, get honest with yourself about why you want to apologize. What are you genuinely sorry for? Try to see things from your partner’s perspective.
Acknowledge Their Hurt And Don’t Get Defensive
When you finally decide to go to your partner and apologize, prepare to get uncomfortable. Your partner might interrupt your apology by describing how much you’ve hurt them and what they are going through after your actions. In this case, it’s crucial to let them speak and not interrupt them with your view of the situation.
“Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand”
Apologizing can seem scary for some people because it puts them in a vulnerable position. Naturally, following the need to protect themselves from guilt, they get defensive. However, for the offended party, defending your behavior and giving explanations is seen as trying to get excused from the situation and avoiding to take responsibility for your actions.
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse”
When someone is hurt, the most important thing for them is to feel understood. You need to show your partner that you are aware of the pain that you have caused and address it in your apology. Take responsibility for hurtful things that you said or did. This means that you won’t blame your partner for how you behaved and that you will resist the temptation to get defensive. Don’t minimize their feelings or question their logic. Remember, your job here is not to be right, but to help your partner feel listened and cared for.
Express Willingness To Do Whatever It Takes
Tell your partner what have you learned from the incident and list the things that you will do or change to avoid repeating the same mistake again. It’s important, however, to really believe in this and to make it realistic. False promises will only damage your relationship even more.
We are all different people with a unique set of traits and different needs. Thus, what you think is helpful might not be what your partner actually wants so to feel better. Instead, find out what your partner needs from you in order to find a resolution. It shows to your partner that you respect them and that their feelings are important to you.
Sometimes, even the one that is hurt doesn’t know what exactly would make things better. That’s okay. As long as you show them that you are there for them, that you might don’t know how to make things better but you are willing to learn, it’s already healing.
Be Patient And Don’t Push For Forgiveness
It’s understandable that you want your relationship to get back on track as soon as possible. But, remember that your main objective was not to get forgiveness and be comfortable again quickly, but to make things easier for your partner and start building trust and connection again. Therefore, give your partner some space and time to process all those unpleasant emotions of anger, frustration, hurt, disappointment etc. Don’t rush them through this process or blame them for taking “too long” to forgive you.
After the apology, it’s important not to act like everything is back to normal and nothing happened. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. Even if things in your relationship seem ok shortly after the apology, wounds are probably still fresh and you need to be patient and gentle with your partner. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your commitment. Actively show through your actions that you are willing to invest your time and energy to make things better for your partner.
Knowing how to apologize properly and meaningfully is one of the keys to successful relationships. However, it’s important to know that apologizing is not about accepting the blame for something. It’s about acknowledging and responding to your partner’s emotional pain that your actions provoked. You can, and should be accountable, but everyone is responsible for their emotional reactions too. It is not acceptable for an upset partner to be abusive, physically or verbally.
It takes an active part from both partners to repair a situation.