The Importance of a Genuine Apology

What is an apology? This question may seem obvious, but when we take a closer look at apologies, we can recognize that most of us could use a little work in this area. The reality is, most of us did not have genuine apologies modeled to us, and so now it is our job to do some relearning on how to take accountability for our mistakes.

What is included in a good apology?

  1. Listen – Listen to how the other person felt hurt or pain from your actions. Let you partner know you heard them by summarizing what you heard to make sure you got it right.
  2. Take responsibility for what happened. This means no blaming and no excuses
  3. Express Remorse
  4. Share your plan to work on preventing this mistake from happening again and/or ask what your partner would find most helpful to move forward

Example: “I am sorry I was late for date night. I can see that you were counting on me to show up for you, and I let you down. You are important to me, and I want us both to feel prioritized in this relationship. Can I share with you my plan to try and avoid this same mistake in the future?”

What a apology is NOT:

  1. Making excuses to defend why your mistake was valid
  2. Blaming others for the mistake
  3. “I am sorry your feelings were hurt” (A apology is apologizing for the behavior YOU engaged in)
  4. Do not bring up the list of “wrongs” your partner has done. Stay on topic! If there is feedback you would like to give to your partner, please have that conversation – just do so at a later time.

What if my partner’s feelings are hurt, but I truly feel that I have done nothing wrong?

  1. Seek for understanding as to why they are hurt. Get curious and ask questions until you have clarity and can at a minimum partially understand their perspective (perspective taking can be a skill in itself!)
  2. Look for the behavior that caused the hurt feelings. Examples – Running late, forgetting a task or important date, making a harsh comment or criticism etc. We are not apologizing for our intent, but for the behavior.
  3. Remember that taking responsibility does NOT mean that the mistake wasn’t reasonable, or that there may not have been a great explanation as to why the mistake was made. It is completely ok to explain what happened, as long as taking responsibility for the behavior is the focus.

Tips to keep in mind

Most of us jump very quickly into a defensive mode when we have made a mistake, and shame can be a common emotion that rises up. Be kind to yourself when you feel your defensives rising. It is natural for us to want to explain and defend out choices. Recognize that this is normal, and remind yourself that you are working hard on creating a new pattern where taking accountability does not have to bring up this intense discomfort or shame. We all mess up! The faster your relationship dynamic can accept, acknowledge, and repair hurts, the safer both people will feel.

Want to learn more?

Check out this podcast with Brene Brown and Harriet Lerner here:


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