How to Sincerely Apologize: Saying “I’m Sorry” from the Heart
Knowing how to sincerely apologize can make all the difference between a relationship that lasts a lifetime and one where the love or friendship fades, leaving both people wondering, “What happened?” Those who know how to sincerely apologize build the strongest and most sustainable relationships.
Let’s face it, every relationship, romantic or otherwise, will have times where someone feels hurt, unseen, unimportant, disrespected, unloved, and the like. Simultaneously, no matter how conscious anyone commits to be in life and in love, each one of us will have times when our personality or our ego gets the best of us. We will experience times when our internal pain, frustration or struggle will have so much force that we do or say something we truly regret. Other times, for the same reasons, we won’t do or say something that, in hindsight, we wish had. All of these situations call for the capacity to apologize sincerely.
If we want to experience love, if we want to be in quality relationships, if we want to know the power of true unity then we must master our apologizing skills. Pseudo or inauthentic apologies, while they might seem like they will end the upset sooner, will actually drive the two people further apart. Those upsets can last for years. Unspoken. Ignored. Silently eroding the love and destroying the relationship.
How to apologize: The 7 Essential Steps
When you desire to truly heal an upset, disconnection, or rupture between you and another, you must go through each of these steps of a sincere apology, in this order. You’ll find the first few steps actually serve as prerequisites that prepare you to sincerely apologize. These preparation steps must happen in order for the apology to be sincere and for it to offer its full healing capacity to the other person and your relationship.
The good news is that once we have developed our apologizing skills, the steps often happen quite quickly, in a matter of minutes, or even moments.To get started though, you’ll want to be intentional about each of these steps. The first few will prepare you to make your apology sincerely and from the heart. This heartfelt sincerity dramatically increases the chances that the other person will receive it and that forgiveness, and hence reconnection can happen.
The process of sincerely apologizing starts here…
1) Be willing to be in the upset and discomfort of the situation. We could also call this being present. In order to sincerely apologize, first we have to realize what’s happening and recognize that an apology is warranted. This is, however, also the point that things can quickly go awry. The problem shows up in two distinct and basically opposite ways. First, if we don’t like discomfort, we’ll too often try to push away the uncomfortable situation, doing things like telling the other person they’re “too sensitive” or “it’s not a big deal,” or even blame them. Too often in this case, we’ll walk away even though a true apology is called for.
The second and opposite approach occurs when we realize something has created distance or disconnection between us and another person, especially a romantic partner, and we start apologizing way too quickly. When an underlying fear that we won’t be loved exists, and these fears can take many forms, we’ll find ourselves so afraid of losing the connection that we’ll do anything to save it. This often shows up as over apologizing or not really knowing exactly what you’re apologizing for, but apologizing anyway. This turns into an insincere and ineffective attempt at apologizing that simply creates more distance.
2) Listen to and understand the other person’s perspective, and take responsibility for your action, inaction, or impact, if appropriate. This does not have to mean you did something wrong. It means that you’re willing to hear the other person’s point of view and see their perspective. It means you’re willing to understand why they are in pain and then, most importantly, you’re willing to personally reflect and consider how you may have contributed to their painful feelings or experience. You will definitely not always feel like you did something wrong, but conscious connection and personal generosity invite you to consider apologizing for unintentional impact, such as apologizing for making someone uncomfortable without realizing it.
3) Tend to your own feelings and let yourself be imperfect. If we need to apologize for something we did or didn’t do, we may feel embarrassed or even ashamed. Since most of us don’t like those feelings we’ll often do anything to get out of them, which could lead you to defend and justify instead of owning your part and humbly apologizing. If you’ve contributed to another person’s pain, you’ll help both of you by being kind and loving to yourself, even forgiving yourself first. This will support you in being able to be fully present and attentive to the other person.
Again alternatively, if your fear of losing love or connection drives you to apologize too quickly, the other person will feel that your apology is more about you than it is about them, which does not bode well for reconnection possibilities. If you’re afraid, tend to your own fear so you can actually see if, and what, you need to apologize for. Then you can do it sincerely.
4) Have empathy. If you want to know how to apologize to your girlfriend or wife, you’ll want to remember this essential step. When a feminine being is upset, she needs to know, regardless of whether you are masculine or feminine, that you have a sense of how she feels. In other words she wants you to be able to empathize with her feelings. Then your ability to empathize will also draw you into your own heart and allow you to apologize more sincerely.
5) Know what you’re apologizing for. As you’ve gotten present to the circumstances in the previous steps, you’ll now be able to more clearly see what you want to apologize for. In relationship, considering apologizing doesn’t have to always mean you did something wrong or hurtful. Sometimes, the other person feels something we didn’t intend. Sometimes they perceive a situation differently than it actually happened. Yet, when an upset exists, being willing to care for the connection, to value repair over separation and disconnection, matters.
So it’s critical that you take a moment to figure out what you want to apologize for. Was it something you did or said? Something you didn’t do or say? A commitment you didn’t keep? Not honoring your word? Getting upset at your partner when you’re feelings have nothing to do with them? Giving them the cold shoulder? Crossing a boundary? Not honoring one of your relationship agreements? The more specific and inclusive you can be, the better.
6) Get present. This one is simple but not always easy. Be in your body. Get present to the other person. Look them in the eye, maybe hold their hands.
7) Be sincere and speak from your heart. Each of the above steps will have prepared you for this moment. Being present to your partner or the other person, and let the love in your heart speak. (Even if you’re apologizing to someone who isn’t your romantic partner, love is definitely involved in a sincere apology.
Then you can use apologies like “I’m sorry for _____ / I’m so sorry that I ________ and that it made you feel _____. That was not my intention and I’m truly sorry.” or “I never meant for ______ to happen / you to feel ________. I’m very sorry.”
Note that including the part about how it made the other person feel matters. The words you speak there will come from your ability to listen and be empathetic. (Yes, you have the ability to do that, even if you’re a strongly masculine man.) These important words show that you truly care about the other person and their experience.
Know that an apology that is not sincere, an apology that doesn’t come from the heart, will make matters worse in both the short and long term. Insincere apologies can feel invalidating and hence serve to push the other person further away or have them close their heart just a little bit more. When this pattern of incomplete or insincere apologies repeats enough times, the relationship will simply dissolve in one way or another.
Remember that a sincere apology leads to reconnection. An insincere apology might appear to get you out of the uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible, yet in the end it will do much more harm than good.
Apologies and forgiveness go together
Before we close we would be remiss not to speak of apology’s partner forgiveness. Apologies and forgiveness go hand in hand in lasting relationships. As much as we must learn how to sincerely apologize, we must also learn the power of forgiveness in relationships. Some people resist apologizing. Others resist forgiving. Still others resist both. Either form of resistance actually serves as an invitation to love. When practiced well, apologizing and forgiving offer a straight shot to love. Resistance to either puts us on the direct path to heartache.
If one person willingly and sincerely apologizes and the other continues, over a significant period of time, to sit in resentment (which, by the way, is almost always caused by self-abandonment) or if that person feels it necessary to hold a grudge, all the apologies in the world can’t sustain that relationship. That doesn’t however mean you have to forgive when you don’t feel it, that would be the equivalent of an insincere apology. Yet, when we desire a conscious relationship, we must remember that none of us show up perfectly. We all mess up. We all make mistakes. We all misinterpret things or hear things the other person didn’t actually say. It doesn’t matter what causes the disconnection, we must know how to repair it and the two most important skills we need to repair a relationship and keep it strong are our capacity to know how to sincerely apologize and how to genuinely forgive.
When you practice these skills and steps of a sincere apology, you’ll put your focus on love. You will no longer need to be right. You will begin to feel safe to be vulnerable and humble, which in turn makes you a more powerful partner and lover. You’ll actually experience love in an entirely new way and you’ll discover that conflict truly becomes communion when approached consciously. You’ll realize that challenges, when met with love and courage, make the relationship stronger and deeper, stronger and deeper, stronger and deeper time and time again.
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