Apologies play a huge role in keeping relationships happy and healthy — hey, we all screw up from time to time, right? — but saying sorry is usually much easier said than done. It can be difficult to admit when you make a mistake or hurt your partner, but knowing how and when to apologize in a relationship is crucial if you want to be able to successfully navigate conflicts and resolve problems without building resentment.
"Being mature enough to take responsibility for your actions and understand the pain it can cause your partner is key empathy that a relationship can’t be without," Dr. Jill Murray, Licensed Psychotherapist, Author, and Relationship Expert, tells Bustle. "You should always apologize for hurtful behavior, even if you think that the person feeling that pain doesn’t have a right to feel it, or that you wouldn’t have been hurt by it."
If you do or say something hurtful, you can help to heal that wound by showing empathy and genuinely apologizing to your partner. But it's also important to remember that you don't have to apologize for every little thing in your relationship — because believe it or not, there is such a thing as apologizing too much.
"At some point, too much apologizing leaves your partner with the impression that you are too passive and accommodating," Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of online relationship community, Relationup, tells Bustle. "It feels to your partner that you cannot tolerate them having upset feelings and you are using apologies to placate them and smooth things over. Ultimately, your apologies become a tool to manage them and their feelings due to your own discomfort."
Should you say you're sorry if you genuinely mess up? Of course. But you shouldn't use those two little words as a catch-all solution to any problem that pops up, minor or major. Plus there are some things that you simply don't even need to say "I'm sorry" for in the first place — here are seven things that you should never apologize for in your relationship.
1Your Hobbies Or Passions
You don't have to share all the same interests as your partner to have a happy relationship, but you should both be supportive of one another's hobbies, even if they don't interest you.
"[Your hobbies] are pieces of your self-identity puzzle, and partners must learn to embrace each other and compromise when needed," Justin Lavelle, dating expert and Chief Communications Officer of online background check platform BeenVerified, tells Bustle. "Instead of apologizing, show your partner what makes you tick and encourage them to seek hobbies and passions of their own."
2Asking Repetitive Questions
When you've been dating someone for a long time, it's normal to feel like certain aspects of your relationship are repetitive. And sometimes, the day-to-day questions (like "what should we do for dinner?") can be annoying — but you should never apologize for asking them.
"If it's something that needs to be discussed and you can't get around it, there's nothing to be sorry for, even if it annoys your partner," Vikki Ziegler, renowned divorce attorney and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "Keeping open lines of communication are essential, even when they may feel repetitive."
3Your Natural Quirks
In a relationship, you should feel free to be your most genuine, authentic self at all times. We all have quirks, and if your relationship is healthy, you should never feel like you have to apologize for being yourself.
"You can't change your core, and if you have some quirks that your spouse or partner doesn't like, you can't keep apologizing for them," Ziegler says. "You are you, and you should never apologize for that."
4Expressing An Opinion
You're not always going to see eye-to-eye with your partner, but the foundation of any good relationship is respect — which includes respecting one another's opinions, even if you don't agree with them.
"You should not apologize for having and expressing an opinion, whether your partner agrees with it or not," Janet Zaretsky, confidence and business coach/consultant, tells Bustle. "Each of us has a right to have and express opinions, and when we apologize for having them, we rob ourselves of power, and we are unconsciously communicating that our opinions don’t matter."
5Needing Alone Time
We all need a little alone time to relax and decompress from time to time, and you shouldn't have to say you're sorry or feel guilty for asking for space from your partner.
"Doing something independent of your partner is healthy for the relationship and for you as an individual," Milrad says. "You don’t need to apologize for wanting your independence and space and have a life separate from your partner that can also have the effect of enriching the relationship."
6Something You Didn't Do
It can be tempting to say "I'm sorry" just to avoid a fight... even if you didn't do the thing you're apologizing for. But ultimately, that empty apology has no merit, and will do more harm to your relationship than good.
"Many people apologize as a way to get a partner off their back," David Bennett, certified counselor, relationship expert, and co-owner of The Popular Man, tells Bustle. "If you didn't do anything wrong, and find yourself only apologizing to get someone 'off your back,' avoid apologizing."
Mistakes happen every day, but not all of them warrant an apology. If you have a minor, trivial mess-up in front of your partner, so long as it wasn't harmful to the relationship, don't feel obligated to say you're sorry.
"If your partner loves the dinner you cooked them, then why apologize that the side dish was slightly burnt?" Bennett asks. "That's an example of apologizing for something that didn't inflict any harm or your partner didn't even care about."
How To Break The Habit Of Over-Apologizing
It might sound strange or counterintuitive, but it can actually be harmful to your relationship if you say "I'm sorry" too often, and for things that don't require an apology. And according to Murray, feeling the need to apologize for every little thing in a relationship can even be a sign that you — or the relationship — isn't healthy to begin with. So what can you do to break the habit of always saying sorry?
"Being mindful of your reasons for over-apologizing is a good step," Murray says. "Are you doing that because it’s habit? Because you don’t think much of yourself? Because if you don’t apologize for things you haven’t really done, there will be an argument or the disagreement will never end so it’s just easier to apologize? It’s important to look at the reasons behind the need so that you can decide if you need to do some work on yourself or need to end an unhealthy relationship."
In a relationship, a well-placed, genuine apology can be healing, validating, and peace-bringing, but an unnecessary or insincere apology can have the opposite effect. So next time you're about to apologize, take a minute to reflect on whether you really need to say "I'm sorry" — and if you do, always make sure you mean it.