Elements of a True Apology

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Find here 5 essential keys to an effective Apology. A “real” apology has the power to heal, strengthen and elevate relationships. Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve felt the difference between a sincere apology and one that doesn’t quite “hit the mark”. 

Has your spouse ever apologized to you, but you still felt resentful and hurt?  And then guilty for not being able to forgive more easily? Or accused of holding a grudge and being “difficult”?  Or perhaps you’re the one offering apologies that aren’t well received.  This can happen when the efforts to apologize by the offending party lack essential elements of a sincere apology. 

Saying “sorry” is one of the first societal lessons we learn as children, but few of us have been taught or mastered the fundamentals of an apology. Unfortunately, this has led to unnecessary heartaches in relationships, and even divorces. 

A “real” apology has the power to heal, strengthen and elevate relationships. Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve felt the difference between a sincere apology and one that doesn’t quite “hit the mark”.  What does a genuine, meaningful apology look and sound like? 

  1. Show accountability. The offending person accepts full responsibility for actions or words without blaming others or circumstances, nor making excuses. Words like “I didn’t mean to” and “It wasn’t my intention” are ways of letting yourself off the hook and remaining “innocent” in your own eyes. Instead, a phrase such as “It was wrong of me to (hurt you, tease you, not call, etc)” can go a long way towards softening the repair process. 

We must apologize for accidents as well as purposeful injuries. Both are hurtful and require healing. 

Sometimes, especially with bigger offenses, taking responsibility means being willing to witness the pain you’ve caused. You may have to listen to your partner’s pain, anger, indignation, or point of view before you can offer up an apology that seems sincere. At times, this witnessing may need to be repeated over time, with patience, as the wound heals. 

  1. Validate your partner’s feelings. It’s unhelpful to tell your partner that his or her perspective is wrong and “could not possibly be true” because it contradicts your own point of view. Remember, each person’s perspective is their truth. In fact, the process of validating each other’s feelings and experiences affects your relationship in an incredibly positive way. 
  1. Express your feelings. Tell your partner how witnessing his or her pain makes you feel. Let your spouse know that you are sad, disappointed, guilty, scared and regretful. Your partner needs to see and hear that you are affected; that you feel enough pain and remorse to avoid repeating the hurtful action.   
  1. Offer Reassurance. Tell your husband, wife or partner how it’s going to be different in the future. What will change? 

When you apologize, your partner is wondering at some level something along the lines of: “If I forgive you, will you just take that as permission to hurt me again in the same way tomorrow?” Discussing how and what you will do differently next time helps your loved one believe that continuing the relationship with you is a worthwhile risk.  

  1. Offer up a repair or amends. Actively show you are willing to expend your time and energy to make things better for your spouse. If you don’t know how, ask your partner: “What can I do to make things better?” 

Be willing to work to re-earn the trust that has been damaged or broken by your offending actions or words.  

Remember, it is far too easy to miscommunicate, misinterpret, misspeak and mishear. Even happy, successful couples make such errors. Learning how to offer a “real” apology allows relationships to move forward in a healthyFree Web Content, elevated way.


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Caralee Frederic, LCSW, has practiced as a private couples and individual therapist in Colorado, specializing in marriage and family counseling, for almost 20 years. She also presents The Art and Science of Love, a two-day couples workshop packed with information that helps couples with everything from managing conflict to developing greater intimacy. This couples workshop material was created by The Gottman Institute. In addition to being a Certified Gottman Therapist, Caralee is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Recovery Therapist. 

To see if a couples workshop is right for you, contact Caralee at for a free consultation.

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