How to Apologize

How to Apologize

How to Apologize

How to Apologize

How to Apologize

It’s impossible not to hurt our partner’s feelings from time to time: Missteps and misunderstandings happen in all relationships — Things we say, don’t say; do, don’t do; or forgetting something important to our partner. So, forgiveness is an essential component of a loving, healthy relationship.

I often use the metaphor of a slow dance: You and your partner are dancing to a slow tune, close, arms wrapped around each other. The problem is it’s nearly impossible to never step on each other’s toes. What happens when you do? You almost automatically say, “I’m sorry.” Right! And, then you continue your dance because you know your partner recognized he or she hurt you.

And, complicating matters, we have the most power to hurt our partner’s feelings than anyone else. Emotions are strongest in our primary relationship. When you fell in love, a strong connection was created, and you and your partner/fiancé/spouse became the most important person in each other’s lives.

Clearly, no one makes us feel more joyful than our partner; conversely, no one has a greater potential to negatively impact our feelings.

The Absence of an Apology

It’s not uncommon for me to hear one partner at the beginning of relationship counseling report that their partner “never apologizes, no matter what!” Or, I’ll hear the lament that the partner may apologize, but sincerity seems lacking to their mate.

When an apology is absent or seems dismissive, the hurting partner can feel that:

  • I can’t really rely on my partner to understand my true feelings and that the hurtful behavior may happen again and even again.
  • My feelings don’t matter or aren’t valid to my partner.
  • I tend to feel less secure in the relationship, even sometimes feeling less important to my partner.

The absence of a meaningful apology and closure of the hurt feelings can have a lasting impact on forgiveness. The issue that caused the hurt can potentially be brought up again during times of distress. This leaves the other partner wondering, “That was years ago. Can’t he or she get over it?” (Actually, no. Keep reading!)

Why Apologies Are Essential for Healing and Forgiveness

We deeply want (and need) our partner to understand and accept us — our uniqueness, our “quirks” and our emotional needs. This connection is the foundation of a close, trusting relationship.

When our partner dismisses or diminishes the importance of our feelings, it’s as if a second hurt is inflicted. Not only do I feel hurt by what was said, forgotten, etc., but now I’m even more hurt because my partner isn’t trying to understand me.

Apologies can be powerful and helpful in maintaining a secure, healthy relationship and can move us toward forgiveness when:

  • We acknowledge our partner’s feelings as true and authentic for them. We attempt to understand them deeply and are open to learning more about them through this process. “I see it now. You’re telling me why this is important and sharing with me why it was hurtful for you.”
  • We listen with care and concern to our partner’s response. We cross a bridge to deeper understanding of our partner, what makes him or her the unique and wonderful person they are. “Help me understand. I’m not sure I see it the way you do, so I want to learn more about this.”
  • We avoid becoming defensive. A defensive stance blocks all learning; in fact, we don’t typically even hear our partner because we interrupt to defend our position.
  • We learn new information about our partner’s sensitivities. “I didn’t know that bothered you. I get it now. Thanks for helping me understand.”
  • We express genuine regret that the event occurred. We listen and then speak through our hearts, to feel and understand our partner in a new dimension. “I never intended to hurt you. I feel sad, and I so regret that this happened. I was careless with my words and actions. I will really try to be more aware from now on.”

What Was Learned?

When arguments or hurt feelings occur, an incredible opportunity emerges (Ok, it doesn’t feel at all like any such thing when it’s happening). When couples slow down their reactions and listen to each other, they can learn:

  • About actions that can upset our partner so we can be aware of issues that are sensitive to him or her.
  • How to resolve issues and discuss feelings calmly and to be open (and less defensive) to our partner’s needs.
  • What our partner needs when he or she is feeling distressed. What’s helpful? Comfort? A warm hug? Time to talk things through and be heard?

Seeking Help When Forgiveness Seems Not Enough

  • When the pain in the relationship has become greater than the joy, couples counseling can help couples reconnect and learn to more deeply understand each other.

We specialize in helping couples using Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, the most successful method for improving marriages and relationships.

This proven approach has several important advantages:

  • It’s typically short-term, an average of 10 to 20 sessions for most couples.
  • The process gets to “the heart” of difficulties couples are encountering by helping you both understand the deeper feelings that are contributing to your distress.
  • Data show that many couples who complete the counseling process may continue to improve after counseling is over.

At times, recovering from hurtful events may require outside help. Certain emotional wounds can feel too difficult for the couple to resolve. These can include infidelity, parenting issues, problems related to extended family, dealing with finances and lack of intimacy.