Even though we try hard to avoid it, we are likely, at least some of the time, to offend people
we love. The unique nature of the restrictive shelter-in-place conditions we find ourselves living in today is bound to put added stress and strain on our most important relationships. If you find you have offended someone you love, what is the best way to go about repairing that relationship? A particularly effective way is to immediately own up to what you’ve said or done and apologize to your loved one in an especially heartfelt manner.
We write in our book, Conflict—The Unexpected Gift, “Simply saying, I’m sorry, is not going to cut it. An insincere apology can make you come off as condescending and hinder any progress in resolving your troubles. But how do you offer a truly meaningful apology that doesn’t sound as if you’re just going through the paces and trying to achieve a quick fix? Without the skill to properly express to the other person that you’re sorry, you can turn something that began as a minor offense into a major blow to your relationship.”
Karina Schumann, professor of social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, points to a heartfelt and meaningful apology as being a critical part of a strategy to repair a wounded relationship. She writes: “What goes into the apology is important. There are eight components that an individual might want to consider including in their apology.” Here is my abbreviated version of what she says.
An expression of remorse
- Expressions like “I’m so sorry,” “I feel terrible,” and “I apologize.”
- Remorse communicates that the offender regrets their actions and cares for the offended person.
- Explanations are honest, forthright statements about why the incident occurred. Avoid excuses or
justifications. Instead give truthful accounts of the causes of one’s behavior.
- These help clarify one’s intent and usually reduce the aggrieved party’s feelings of being blamed.
An acceptance of responsibility
- Statements of responsibility include acknowledging what the aggrieved party is going through, such as “It’s my fault” or “I’m sorry that I...”
- By taking responsibility, the offender avoids blaming the aggrieved party, which is essential.
- For example, “I was unfair to you,” “I was wrong,” or “I shouldn’t have done that.”
- By admitting a wrong, offenders show their commitment to doing the right thing.
- Offenders might say “I know I hurt you” or “I’m sorry for putting you through this.”
- Statements such as these validate the aggrieved party’s pain and help them feel understood.
- For example, “I’ll try my best not to do this again” or “I’ll get it right next time.”
- When sincere, such promises help restore trust between the offender and the aggrieved person.
An offer of repair
- Offers of repair might include material compensation or some action designed to make it up to the aggrieved person. Just asking them if you can do anything to make them feel better helps.
- An offer of repair helps to demonstrate that the apology is sincere.
A request for forgiveness
- For example “please forgive me” or “please accept my sincere apology.”
- Such statements indicate the offender hopes the aggrieved party will view them positively again.
Let’s face it. It’s difficult to apologize. Doing so in a manner that demonstrates your sincere concern for another individual, thus increasing that person’s trust in you, is particularly hard to accomplish. The more of Schumann’s eight components you can include in your apology, the better your odds are of mending and preserving a relationship with a loved one. And timing is of the essence—the closer to the offense you are apologizing for, the more effective it is.