If you think love means never having to say you’re sorry, you have clearly never been in a relationship. An apology is just like a scalpel. Used correctly, it saves lives. Used badly, it severs hearts – for GOOD. But while saying ‘sorry’ is easy enough, few of us know how to make an effective apology. We say ‘sorry’ without really apologizing. For an apology to count as one, it has to be apology in the trust sense of the word – an admission of wrongdoing without excuses or justification. “I’m sorry but…” just doesn’t hack it – it’s not an apology; it is an attempt at an apology.
What then is a true apology?
- It is timely. The sooner you offer an apology, the lesser the hurt can fester. What’s the point in apologizing for forgetting her birthday three months ago? The apology should have been made the following day or week, if not on the day itself.
- It is specific. If you are truly sorry, you name what you did wrong and apologize for it. “I’m sorry” is simply too generic – you could be apologizing for the weather, a botched up meal, or the fact that you stood her up last night. Specify precisely what you are sorry for so she will know you know exactly what you did wrong.
- It admits responsibility. No matter what you do, never follow “I’m sorry” with a BUT. A “but” is a justification. It shows her your “I’m sorry” is a compromise rather than a genuine apology. It tells her you are trying to shift the blame elsewhere. If you accidentally mowed her mom down as you drove out of the garage, say so. “I’m sorry I hit your mom. I didn’t mean to, but I did.” is more likely to earn you her forgiveness than “I’m sorry I hit your mom but there’s no way I could not have hit her. She was blocking the driveway.”
- It offers an explanation. She may not be ready to hear this while she’s hurt but she would surely want an explanation later on. Give her the truth. She deserves it.
- It makes amends. A genuine apology comes with reparations. Usually, there is nothing physical to repair. But hearts and trusts shatter worse than any real object so make these the focus of your repair work. Ask her sincerely, “What can I do to make amends?” If she tells you how, commit to it. If she doesn’t, figure it out yourself.
That said, here are some apologies that are not apologies at all. If your intention is to heal the rift and get her back or prevent her from leaving you, never use these pseudo-apologies in lieu of the real one.
- “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
You’re not a politician but you sure have the art of double-speak down to a science with this line. This pseudo-apology implies two things – first, that your apology is conditional and second, that the person you are apologizing to is simply over-reacting so it really is her fault that she is offended.
- “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This does not apologize for a mistake. Rather, this implies there was no mistake and that the only thing wrong with the scenario is that the other person’s nose is slightly out of joint. This shifts the blame from you to the other person with the bad feeling.
- “I’m sorry you misunderstood.”
This is another way of shifting blame. Rather than apologize for a mistake, this line points out it’s the other person’s fault for not getting what was really meant.
In 1970, the movie Love Story hit theaters. Ali MacGraw told Ryan O’Neal just before she died, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” and made audiences everywhere weep. The line has long since become a classic but this doesn’t mean it’s right. The only possible reason Ali MacGraw’s character could have said it was that she died way too young to learn an important lesson. When you are in a relationship, you always apologize and you always explain. Love means you’re always willing to say you’re sorry.
Want a step-by-step sample of how to give an effective apology that could can wipe years of pain away? Click here.