You have done something to hurt someone. Intentionally or unintentionally. Either way, that person is really hurt. And you want to fix it. You know you need an apology that will work.
You have been trying to apologize, to make them see things from your perspective, to get them to understand your intentions. All to no avail. Hope is not lost.
There is a way to apologize that will be both heard and accepted. Read on to learn how. Before we begin you have to understand WHAT you have to apologize for. You did something that caused someone pain. And THAT is what you have to apologize for. Causing that person pain. Not for what you did to cause the pain.
I have a client whose husband showed up 30 minutes late on a night where he swore he would be home on time. They were supposed to go out for her birthday and she had made special dinner reservations. He had tried to get home but got caught up in a work crisis.
Should he need to apologize? I mean, he was late because of work. He had no control over that. Of course he needs to apologize!
Why? Not because he was kept late at work but because he HURT HER by not getting home when he said that he would. Do you see the difference? The slight is that he caused her pain.
Whatever he did to cause that pain is irrelevant. That is what you are apologizing for: causing them pain. Get it?
Sentence #1 – “I am sorry that I hurt you.”
This is the perfect first line of any apology. You are acknowledging that you have caused someone pain. They know that you know that you hurt them and by stating it clearly you can, and will, immediately deflate your loved one’s anger.
The most important part of this sentence is that it ends after the YOU and that it doesn’t continue on with a BUT. An explanation of why you were late, and why you weren’t at fault, will completely invalidate the first part of the sentence. Completely.
Again, what you are apologizing for is that you hurt someone. How you did so is irrelevant in this first part of the apology. So accept it and apologize for the hurt you have caused.
#2 – “How can I prevent it from happening again?”
This second sentence is very important because it allows the person you hurt to take some ownership for how to prevent it from happening again.
In the case of my client, after she calmed down when she realized that her husband knew how much he had hurt her, she thought about what could be done differently in the future to prevent him from causing her pain. She suggested that next time he knew he was going to be late he call her so that she could change their reservations. She would also know that he knew he was late and that he was sensitive to the situation which could help her from getting hurt.
Armed with this knowledge my client’s husband had the tools he needed to stop himself from hurting his wife in the future when he was going to be late. It was up to him know when to use those tools and to do so.
#3 – “What can I do to make it up to you?”
This one is a fun one. Amends. So my client’s husband had acknowledged that he had hurt her and did not tried to justify his behavior. Now he wanted to know what he could do to make it up to her…. Once again, my client, the hurt party, was in a position of control. Not a dominating sort of control but in control of how the outcome of the situation could play out. By being in this kind of control my client was given the opportunity to express what she needed to move past this hurt.
Her husband didn’t have to guess, which is good because husbands aren’t always good at guessing. My client suggested a bottle of very nice champagne at home with some birthday cake. The kids were off at a friend’s house and having some alone time just the two of them is what she wanted most anyway. He was, of course, happy to accommodate and the night ended very well indeed.
Again, the key to the perfect apology is recognizing that you are apologizing for the hurt that you caused and not the behavior that caused it. You hurt someone and that is what you need to apologize for, no matter how much you believe that it couldn’t have been avoided or that you weren’t at fault.
So go ahead. Apologize. Mean it. Move forward together in a meaningful way. It just might change your life. Try it. You will see.
If you’ve made it this far you must really need to apologize for something.
Let me help you, NOW, before too much time passes.
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.