Here's How to Apologize—The Right Way

Apologizing is so much more than just saying, "I'm sorry."

Updated 06/08/17

Photo by Jordan Voth

No relationship is perfect, which means every couple will have a disagreement or do something that might merit an apology. But apologizing is so much more than saying, "I'm sorry," and moving on. If you really mean it (and want your partner to know that), there is a right way to say you're sorry. We turned to the experts to break down how to apologize sincerely and successfully.

Apologizing is uncomfortable. Admitting that you are at fault, whether it's as simple as forgetting to pick something up at the grocery store or as grave as saying or doing something that hurt your partner's feelings, is something we spend our whole lives practicing (and often actively avoiding). But if you want to restore trust, understanding, and connection to your relationship and make sure the silent treatment doesn't evolve into a full-blown cold war, the key is knowing how to apologize—and doing it sooner rather than later.

"There are two big mistakes people make when apologizing," says Laura Doyle, marriage and relationship expert and author of The Empowered Wife. "The first is one seemingly innocent word: 'if.' Saying that you apologize if you did something to hurt your partner doesn't just negate the apology—it undermines what they are feeling, and can reopen the wound to start the disagreement all over again." Instead of saying "I apologize if I hurt your feelings," which can suggest that you don't think you did anything wrong, make sure to say, "I apologize for hurting your feelings," which acknowledges that you understand and feel badly about what you said or did.

"The second mistake is trying to justify your apology. If you start off by apologizing for your behavior, then continue to explain what it is you were thinking or feeling at the time, you're assuming your partner is oblivious to what actually happened and are making excuses for the way you acted," Doyle explains. "This gives you another reason to apologize, getting you into an endless cycle. The only way to get out? Make your apology, and then stop talking!"

When it comes time to apologize to your partner, choose your words carefully. "The words 'I apologize' pack much more punch than saying 'I'm sorry,'" Doyle explains. Apologizing is an action from you to your partner, while being sorry is the way you feel—which doesn't affect your partner at all. And don't expect anything in return! "You can't go into an apology expecting your partner to say that you didn't do anything wrong. If you have a reason to apologize, they have a reason to receive your apology, but they don't owe you anything in return unless they also have something to apologize for," Doyle continues. Focus on how your apology can change the way your partner feels. Knowing that you have accepted responsibility and apologized for your actions or behavior will immediately draw you back together again, helping you recover from the conflict and move forward as a team.

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