I know that, for the most part, you are a flawless goddess and everyone loves you. But I'm sure occasionally you do have to apologize, especially in your relationship, and you have to do it right. Because sometimes just saying "sorry" isn't enough. When those times roll around, you'll need to understand what makes a truly great and meaningful apology. It's about so much more than admitting blame or feeling guilt. It's about understanding how your partner feels, affirming their feelings, making them feel heard, finding real solutions, and then doing a little making up.
When I worked with couples as both a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I spent a lot of time teaching couples the right way to apologize. Egos, blame, anger, and frustration often get in the way of making meaningful progress in times of strife. And there's no room for egos in a healthy relationship. OK, there's a little room, but you can't let it overshadow your willingness to roll up your sleeves, admit when you're wrong, and do the work of cleaning up your emotional messes.
Sometimes that means making real, lasting change, and that's a difficult thing to do. Especially if you're set in your ways, or if you're not used to compromising. It's a skill that take practice, but you'll get it down. Here are some basic steps to guide you through the perfect apology.
1. Check Your Tone
An insincere apology might as well be another shovelful of dirt on your relationship's grave. It's as insulting as it is irritating, and it doesn't resolve anything. If you're not ready to apologize, or you don't mean it, don't make things worse with an apology full of attitude. In other words, check yourself before you wreck yourself. It's absolutely OK to take some time to think or cool off after a disagreement. Your partner will now if you're just giving an empty apology, and it will only hurt your relationship.
2. Acknowledge Your Partner's Feelings
Most of the time, when we feel hurt, we also really want to feel understood. Even if you don't think you did anything wrong, it can only make your relationship stronger if you take the time to understand why your partner is angry or hurt instead of just giving a blanket apology. Try to see things from their perspective, and take into account that they likely have different feelings and perspectives on things than you do. Really try to empathize with your partner, in as caring and understand a way as possible.
3. Explain Where You Are Coming From
A lot of times, when we have disagreements in a relationship, it's not because we were just setting out to be jerks. Sometimes we mean well, but we still say the wrong thing or do something thoughtless that we didn't even realize we were doing. Just like you have to empathize with your partner, you have to ask your partner to empathize with you. Your partner probably knows that most of the time, you don't set out to hurt them on purpose. Relay your intentions so your partner can understand that there was no malice in your actions.
4. Get To The Heart Of The Matter
Hurt feelings are usually deeper than just a reaction to careless words or a thoughtless mistake. Maybe your partner is mad at you because you were late for date night again. But that's just the surface issue. It's probably that your partner is really feeling like they are not a priority, or that you're not putting as much effort into the relationship. Don't just focus your apology on on the mistake (the lateness). Delve into the deeper issue (your priorities). This is the true difference between a meaningless apology to save face and a thoughtful apology to resolve an issue.
5. Make A Plan For Change
Once you've apologized, and gotten to the heart of what's really wrong, you need to resolve things by making a meaningful plan for change. This could be something as simple as saying "I will consult you before I make large purchases" or as complex as saying "I will do everything I can to rearrange my schedule and make sure our relationship is a top priority in my life." And even though you're the one doing the apologizing, there's plenty of room for compromise here, and changes from your partner as well. Making an action plan shows you're both committed to each other's happiness and the success of your relationship. It makes an apology that much more meaningful because it's backed by action.
6. Show You Mean What You Say
There's no point in making a plan to change your inconsiderate behavior if you're not going to follow through. You'll just end up back at square one with more apologizing to do, and a partner who is growing tired of hearing it. If you are not happy with your compromise or the solutions you came up with together, make new ones. Don't just backslide into behaviors you know make your partner upset. That's basically telling your partner that you weren't serious about your apologies or about the solutions you both came up with. You have to follow through.
7. Remind Your Partner How Much You Love Them
Don't confuse this step with buying off your partner. A gift doesn't make up for bad behavior, and your partner isn't someone who can be bought off. What you're doing here is simply reminding your partner that they are appreciated, loved, and special. You're adding a rainbow to the end of the rain. It doesn't have to be a gift, either. It could be a heartfelt gesture, extra snuggle time, something romantic, or taking over a chore they hate for a few days. A little loving papering should happen regularly in your relationship anyway, but it's especially important after a disagreement, or when you hurt their feelings. Do whatever will make them smile, warm their heart, and affirm your bond.
Finding real solutions and mending hurt feelings takes much more than just saying "sorry." But if you truly love your partner, making them feel loved, appreciated, and understood is not a wasted effort. Plus, sometimes you get to have hot makeup sex. Bonus.