Apologies are one the the toughest but most productive habits needed to maintain healthy relationships. It has taken me a long time to learn to apologize well and effectively, but I have seen the difference it makes in my relationships.
I apologize to my partner often. Even when we aren’t angry at each other, I sometimes realize I could have handled something better, or communicated more clearly, or offered better support.
I apologize for those things. I apologize to my daughter when I get frustrated and snap at her. I apologize when I realize I failed to provide for her needs in some way (I forgot her snack, or didn’t help her get enough rest) or when I have pushed her past her limits.
It seems sort of odd to apologize to a child after they have had a tantrum, but I recognize that I often have some responsibility for putting her in a situation that overwhelmed her and I hope I’m modeling both self-awareness and good communication habits to her that she will use as she gets older.
When should you apologize? Whenever there is a break in a relationship. Whatever the issue, there will usually be some part of it that is your responsibility. Apologize for that part.
An apology will open the door to communication, understanding, and hopefully to forgiveness. Apologize when
- you harm or offend someone
- you use words in anger that you regret
- you feel you have let someone down
- you realize you could have handled a situation better
Apologize as soon as possible. I find it best to wait until my temper has cooled, but don’t wait too long and don’t wait for the other person to apologize first. Wait only long enough until you genuinely feel contrite and can re-engage on the issue without blame or anger.
How do you apologize?
Make it genuine.
Anyone can spot a false apology and we all know those can do more harm than good. Your apology should have no strings attached. It should not hinge on whether or not the other person apologizes, too. Your apology is about taking responsibility for your part in the situation and stating a willingness to reconnect.
Don’t justify your actions or minimize the apology.
The words “I’m sorry” and “but…” should never be in the same sentence. If you aren’t ready to take responsibility, wait to offer the apology until you are.
“I’m sorry.” is a good start. But “I’m sorry that I communicated badly about our schedule this week. I will be more careful about checking in with you in advance in the future.” more clearly identifies what you are taking responsibility for and how you intend to change. Even a simple, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” is more specific than “I’m sorry.” alone.
Be prepared for no response.
Just because you are ready to apologize does not mean the other person is willing to accept your apology yet or offer an apology in return. Hopefully your apology will open the door to a healing conversation, but that is out of your control. All you can do is offer your genuine apology. The rest is up to them.
The best thing about the habit of apologies, though, is that it helps release and close the discord between you and the other person. Anger, regret and fear consume a lot of energy. Apologizing and reconnecting frees up that energy and attention to be used elsewhere!
Is there someone in your life who you can apologize to and better connect with today?