Why Is It So Hard To Say "I'm Sorry" In A Relationship? How To Apologize To Your Partner, According To Experts
If you want to make your relationship last, there are two simple words that make all the difference — the only catch is that they can also be two of the most difficult words to say: I'm sorry. Everyone messes up from time to time, but what sets healthy relationships apart from unhealthy ones is the ability and willingness, of both partners, to own up to their mistakes and apologize. As simple as it is in theory, apologizing to your partner is often easier said than done... but why is it so difficult to say "I'm sorry" in a relationship?
"It’s part of the human condition to want to be 'right,'" Jane Reardon, LA-based therapist and Founder of Rx Breakup app, tells Bustle. "We all want to make sense of our behavior. I think in order to become fluid enough to consider a partner’s perspective, as opposed to clinging to your own point-of- view, it might be helpful to look at other, less... emotionally-charged scenarios from different perspectives."
Simply put, our pride can get in the way during an argument, which makes it difficult for us to see things from our partner's perspective, which in turn makes it harder to apologize. But as uncomfortable as it can be at first, it's crucial to learn how to say "I'm sorry" and genuinely mean it, because it can have a seriously positive impact on your relationship as a whole — here's why.
It's Not About Who's Right Or Wrong
If you want to get more comfortable saying sorry to your partner, the first step is recognizing that apologizing isn't about who's right or wrong in any given situation. It's about acknowledging the other person's feelings and taking accountability for your part in that — however large or small.
"[Saying sorry] is not about 'winning' or 'losing,'” Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, tells Bustle. "It’s instead showing that you value the relationship more than your ego. Ideally, we all want to feel heard and understood. We want our partners to hear our side of the story and understand where we’re coming from if we’re in pain. Apologizing can help partners to get some relief from their pain, feel less angry or defensive, and move towards being able to hear what their partner is trying to say."
Saying Sorry Builds Intimacy
Even though it might seem like second nature to say sorry when you upset your partner, being in the habit of taking accountability when you hurt their feelings will actually allow you to build more intimacy and strengthen your relationship over time.
"Saying 'I'm sorry' can help our significant other feel safer in the relationship, as their experience is acknowledged and validated, and allows couples to repair emotional wounds," Santiago Delboy, MBA, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Chicago, tells Bustle. "In the long run, this allows for greater intimacy, mutual support, and connection. When instead of apologizing we convey messages like 'it's not a big deal' or 'you're too sensitive,' we invalidate our significant other's reality, undermine our capacity to work through conflict, alienate our partners and create a gap in the relationship that will probably be filled with resentment and disconnection."
What Happens If You Don't Apologize Enough
On the other hand, if you're in the habit of never apologizing to your partner after an argument, that can have a seriously detrimental effect on your relationship. In an equal partnership, both people should feel like their feelings and concerns are valid — so if one person is unwilling to admit when they mess up and say sorry, that's a major red flag.
"If one partner doesn't ever [say sorry], the other may feel that they aren't really accepted for who they are and the emotions they have," Susan Golicic, PhD, Certified Relationship Coach, and Co-founder of Uninhibited Wellness, tells Bustle. "They may also start to feel bad about themselves as well as have resentment for the partner because actions and words aren't being owned by the one that doesn't apologize. The relationship starts to feel like it isn't equal."
How To Genuinely Apologize To Your Partner
Healthy relationships are all about mutual love and respect, and being willing to apologize to your partner in a genuine way is the ultimate sign of respect. Saying "I'm sorry" shows that you're able to step back from a disagreement, put yourself in your partner's shoes, and be humble and compassionate enough to apologize for your part in your partner's pain, rather than placing the blame on them.
"A genuine apology is focused on our own actions, not on how the other person feels," Delboy says. "We need to understand what's behind our significant other's feelings, but saying 'I'm sorry you feel this way' is most of the times an empty statement. Unless we acknowledge our part in the issue, we are putting all the burden on them. There is rarely any conflict that is caused by only one of the two people. At the very minimum, both of them contribute to the relationship dynamics that serve as context for conflict. Taking responsibility for what we do and say (or what we don't) is very important for a true partnership to exist."
Although it can sometimes be difficult to swallow your pride and say "I'm sorry," being able to genuinely apologize to your partner and own up to your mistakes is crucial for a successful relationship. Even if you need to practice saying those two little words in the mirror or start writing out your apologies in advance, you'll eventually get the hang of saying sorry — and then your relationship will be smooth sailing... even when you fight.