Ideally, you will never hurt someone you love, so you will never have to apologize to them. Unfortunately, just about 100 percent of people will end up hurting the person they love at some point. No relationship is perfect. Even though Instagram and Facebook photos make relationships look like a Hollywood movie, the reality is far different. If someone says their relationship is absolutely perfect, then they’re probably lying.
If you have been in a committed relationship for any length of time, you have had at least one argument. When this happens, the best thing to do is apologize. You need to learn how to say sorry to someone you hurt. If you do not apologize right away, the anger and hurt feelings can end up festering and leading to long-lasting relationship issues.
How to Say Sorry to Someone You Hurt
The obvious goal is to never have to say you’re sorry at all. Big mistakes like cheating or emotional abuse are hard to forgive—not to mention ethically wrong–, so your best bet is to avoid these mistakes to start with. For smaller mistakes, forgiveness is a bit easier. Start by saying you’re sorry and make sure your attitude matches what you are saying.
1. Don’t Wait Too Long
There is a huge difference between saying you’re sorry an hour later and a week later. If you wait for longer, your spouse or partner has a long time to think about what you said and whether they even want to forgive you. The best thing you can do is apologize as soon as possible. If you wait too long, your spouse will have plenty of time to think of all the other problems you have had together in the past.
2. Skip the Blame Game
An adult can accept that they have played a role in the problem or made a huge mistake. Before you apologize, be honest with yourself: how much of it was your fault? Your partner may have contributed to the argument, but at least some of it was your fault. Never, ever blame your spouse for how you behaved. No one makes you feel or act a certain way. Your feelings and actions are your reaction. They represent your self-control and discipline. No one makes you angry. You choose to respond in anger. More importantly, if you blame your spouse for your anger, your apology is essentially worthless.
3. Use “I feel” Instead of Blaming Your Partner
One of the best things you can do for your relationship is learn how to avoid blaming your partner. Most likely, you don’t even realize that you are doing it, but the way you talk in an argument makes your partner feel like you think they are at fault. For example, think of how these two statements sound:
“You never do the dishes. I have to do them each day when I’m exhausted from work because you don’t do them.”
“I feel really frustrated when the dishes aren’t done. I would appreciate it if we could divide up the work.”
As you can see, the first option makes your partner feel defensive. It accuses them of not doing the dishes—and is probably hyperbolic anyway because “never” doing the dishes is unlikely. Meanwhile, the second option starts with “I feel . . . , “ which is more helpful and to the point. You’re talking to your partner because you want to express how you feel about the dishes, so start with that. Showing your appreciation for when they have done or will do the dishes is another good step because everyone wants to feel appreciated by the people they love. You don’t have to offer to divide the work always, but it is another way to show your appreciation.
4. Watch What You Say
Never say something in anger that you’ll want to take back later. If there is one rule for arguing and apologizing in a relationship, it is to be mindful what you say. If you call your partner a name or say something mean, he or she will remember it later. You can apologize for the rest of your life, but they will remember it and be upset about it. Never, ever say something you mean—and even if you mean it, you might want to rethink saying it anyway.
Other than avoiding negative things, you should also try focusing on being kind and gentle in what you say. After all, you don’t want to continue the argument. Your goal is to apologize so that the other person will forgive you. Remember: Don’t take your partner’s forgiveness for granted. They are under no obligation to forgive you, especially if you have done something unforgivable. Apologize like you mean it.
5. Leave the Past in the Past
If you want this apology to work, you need to stay focused on the present. Bringing up a past argument or your partner’s mistakes will only start a new argument between you two. Let the past remain where it belongs.
6. In Person Is Best
Apologizing is the right thing to do, and how you apologize is extremely important. Don’t send a text to apologize for a major transgression. Your goal should be to always apologize in person. If you have to apologize right away and can’t do it in person for some reason, a voicemail is a better choice than a text. You should make a serious effort to apologize in person if you have made a major transgression or really upset your partner.
7. Your Partner’s Feelings Are Always Valid
Sometimes, people are too dismissive of how their partner thinks or feels. For example, imagine your partner comes to you because they feel hurt or upset about something. If you respond with, “If you were hurt, I never knew”, it essentially invalidates their feelings. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know you hurt them or didn’t realize someone could feel hurt when you did ____. What matters is that your partner feels that way. You might not understand why they feel that way, but you should care because they are someone you care deeply about.
8. Get Rid of Your Expectations
In some cases, a spouse will get furious when their apology isn’t accepted right away. The spouse shows up and apologizes for something, and their partner needs time to process it. Rather than accept their partner’s needs, the individual gets upset.
Don’t do this. You know how you would act or behave in a certain situation, but that does not mean you have any clue about how your partner will actually behave. If you did something horrible, your partner may not be able to forgive you right away. They may even get angry again when you show up to apologize. You cannot control how someone responds, so get rid of all of your expectations. Whether your spouse wants some space or needs to wait to forgive you, listen to them.
9. Show Your Sincerity
After a fight, you need to show your partner that you won’t make the same mistake again. People can often understand when you make a mistake once, but their understanding evaporates if you make the same mistake over and over and over again. Instead of throwing your relationship away because you can’t learn to change, show your partner through your words and actions that you are honestly working to change.
10. Don’t Do It Again
If you have managed to apologize and get everything back on track, don’t mess it up. Once you have recovered from a fight, it is time to get your relationship in order again. The best way to show that you are genuinely sorry is to never make the same mistake again.
Steps for Figuring Out How to Say Sorry to Someone You Hurt
Every relationship is different, so you don’t want to use a canned apology. Whether you are apologizing to a spouse or your best friend, you need to do it in a way that they will believe. Be honest, tell them how you feel and make sure they know you are genuinely sorry. After that, the response and the next step is up to them.
Always admit your mistake. If you can’t admit that you made a mistake, then you aren’t actually sorry. And if you aren’t actually sorry, there is absolutely no point in apologizing.
Understand the pain you caused. After you admit that you have made a mistake, you should acknowledge how you have hurt your partner. Show that you take full responsibility, and you understand how what you did made them feel _____.
Ask for forgiveness. Once you have shown you understand what you did and the impact of what you did, the next step is to ask for their forgiveness. Remember, an apology is for the victim. You are apologizing to make your partner feel better, so don’t have any expectations about what they will say or do. Your apology is for them; not you. If you think that the apology is to make yourself feel better or to get something for yourself, you don’t deserve forgiveness. This is all about them.
Be patient. You can apologize—and you should apologize–, but that doesn’t mean that your spouse will forgive you. Once you ask for forgiveness, you may have to wait to get it. Your spouse or friend may need time to process what happened and your apology. While you wait, focus on not making the same mistake again. If you truly regret what you have done, you may also want to take this time to forgive yourself. After a horrible mistake, it is normal to feel ashamed or guilty, so you may need some time on your own to accept your humanity and forgive yourself.