5 Common Apology Mistakes People Make In Relationships, According To Experts
"I'm sorry you're feeling bad about what I said, but I'm not sorry I said it." This will go down in history as the worst apology a partner has ever given me. And, apparently, this failure to acknowledge responsibility is just one of many mistakes we make when we apologize to our partners.
According to a recent study in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, there are six crucial elements of an apology. Most importantly, you have to acknowledge your responsibility for hurting the other person (which my ex-partner failed to do when he said he was sorry about my feelings but not his actions). Second-most-important is that you offer to make it up to the person you've hurt. You should also express your regret, demonstrate an understanding of what went wrong, state your desire to repent, and ask forgiveness. Yeah, so a plain old "I'm sorry" won't really do it.
But that's what makes for a good apology. There are also a whole of ingredients that go into a bad one. Here are some very common mistakes people make when they're "apologizing" — because sometimes those quotations really are necessary — to their partners, and how they can actually make matters worse.
1. Not Meaning It
According to psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, one of the most common apology-related mistakes people make is, well, apologizing. While it might seem considerate to tell your partner what will make them feel better, chances are they won't feel better if you're apologizing for that sole purpose.
"Your partner knows you, and they know when you are apologizing to end an argument, not because you genuinely mean it," she tells Bustle. "Your words must match your actions to rebuild trust." Instead of just paying someone lip service, she suggests listening and trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes so that your apology is genuine.
2. Explaining Your Actions
Often, an apology becomes an explanation of why we carried out the action that hurt the other person. Sometimes, this is an attempt to show them we weren't intending to hurt them so that they'll feel better. But usually, it just comes off as an excuse.
"Avoid being overly 'heady' when apologizing," Dr. Dominick Hankle, a professor of psychology at Regent University and a marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "Rationalized apologies come across as lectures and distanced soliloquies never reaching into the other person’s heart. You’ve hurt your partner, so they’re feeling emotional pain. You can never reason that away."
3. Explaining Your Intentions
Apologies are often accompanied by the words "I didn't mean it," but the truth is that you've hurt the other person whether you meant to or not. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions — and what matters is not what the road was paved with but the fact that you've gone down it. According to Dr. Tammy Lenski, failure "to acknowledge bad impact when intention was good" does major damage to an attempted apology.
4. Saying "If" And "But"
Delete these words from your vocabulary when you're apologizing, said Lenski. The ultimate non-apology, for example, is "I'm sorry if you feel hurt, but she just came on to me!" These apologies put the responsibility on the other person, she says.
Like my ex-partner's "I'm sorry you feel bad about what I said, but I'm not sorry I said it," these address your partner's feelings but not your actions and can shame your partner for feeling the way they do.
5. Apologizing Repeatedly For The Same Thing
You should always apologize for your mistakes, but after you've made the same mistake enough times, the apology becomes meaningless, life coach Linda F. Williams, MSW, tells Bustle. "Apologizing means a lot less than changing the behavior," she says. So, really, your apology should last way beyond the conversation in which you say "I'm sorry." You should also express it in all your actions thereafter.
There you have it — it's officially time to toss the OG "I'm sorry" out the window and use the six crucial elements for a more sincere apology.