This month I spoke with Tra’ Renee on KATU’s Afternoon Live about how to give a sincere apology. Especially pertinent given our recent heat wave… I know I find myself having to dish out way more apologies than usual when it’s 100° outside!
Before we dive in to how to give a sincere apology, it’s helpful to understand that all relationships follow a simple and predictable pattern: attune, rupture, and repair.
We begin a relationship feeling connected and attuned to our partner. Everything is going great and the relationship is working well! But as we all know, relationships don’t run smoothly forever. Relationship ruptures are inevitable. Your partner hurts your feelings; there is a misunderstanding that turns into a blow-up argument; you snap at your partner after a long day at work. You know how it goes.
The key to a truly successful relationship is the ability to repair these ruptures so that you can return to feeling connected and attuned.
We’re connected –> we hurt each other –> we repair so we can feel connected again. And around and around we go… see how it works? That’s why learning how to repair ruptures (i.e. apologizing) is crucial to the success of any longterm relationship.
Learning to give a sincere apology is the best way to protect your relationship from falling apart.
When apologizing, follow these four simple steps to increase your chances of repairing the relationship quickly and effectively:
1. Start your apology by being specific about what you did wrong
Do not say “I’m sorry that hurt you”… that comment literally never helps. It feels so invalidating! Try saying “I am sorry I (fill in the blank with whatever you did that caused your partner pain).” The more specific you are, the more genuine and sincere the apology will feel.
2. Access empathy and validate your partner’s pain
It’s crucial that you validate your partner’s feelings by saying “I can imagine that felt very (fill in the emotion you think they were feeling, like pain, anger, sadness, etc.). I’m sorry what I did made you feel that way.”
3. Offer context but keep it brief!
Now that you’ve validated your partner’s feeling, you can offer a little bit of context regarding why you acted the way that you acted. For example, “I realize now that I was feeling really on edge about work stuff. I shouldn’t have taken my frustration out on you.” But remember to keep it brief! The longer you talk about why you did it, the more likely your partner is to interpret you as making excuses and/or making the apology about yourself. You want to offer just enough context so that your partner knows you thought about this and are going to try to prevent it from happening in the future.
Pro-Tip: If you offer context BEFORE validating your partner’s emotions, your apology will NOT work. Your partner must feel seen and heard before they can tolerate hearing what could be interpreted as an excuse. Trust me on this one.
4. Ask your partner what they need to reconnect
If you made it to this step, congratulations! You have given your partner a very meaningful and sincere apology. The last step is to check in with your partner to see if there is anything else they need to feel better. You can try saying “I really want to recover from this together. Is there anything else you need to feel connected to me again?”
There you have it! Four simple steps to a sincere apology. Practice these skills, and I know you’ll see an improvement in your relationship. In the meantime, if you need a little extra help getting out of the conflict cycles you’re stuck in, we’re here for you!