A good apology

An apology is saying

  • I  acknowledge that what I did/ said caused you pain.  It wasn’t deliberate; it’s human error.
  • I’ve learned something from this experience – something about you, about me.
  • I will try very hard not do it again.
  • Please forgive me.

You have to mean it. It must be genuine.
An insincere apology is worse than no apology at all.

Your words and tone will reflect your true intention. Are you really sorry for what you did that negatively impacted the other? Or are you more concerned about your own ego?
(Are you sorry, or sorry that you got caught?)

1A. Own up to what you did. You have to take responsibility for your action. Even if that makes you uncomfortable.
Briefly, specifically and factually recount the action you’re apologizing for. You’ve done something wrong. Say what it is.
Think it in first-person. And then say it in first-person. And in active voice (not passive).  

“I am sorry that I left you waiting for 15 minutes.”
Not: “I’m sorry that you were waiting for 15 minutes.”

1B. Include your feelings – how you feel about hurting them.  Let your spouse know that it matters to you that you hurt them. They need to know that you are impacted by what you said/did and that you will avoid repeating that.
BUT, don’t make this about yourself.

“I am sad..”
“I am disappointed in myself.”
“I so regret that I did/said …”


Other feelings may be: guilty, scared, remorseful, shame, anguish, etc.

2. Then show that you acknowledge how whatever you did (or didn’t do), has impacted the other person.

Validate the other person’s feelings of hurt or anger. Show them that you care about how they feel. “I recognize that my coming late inconvenienced you and the family.”

You might add an explanation, but realize that it isn’t an excuse; don’t try to defend yourself. “I was late because I was working hard on that project last night and just couldn’t wake up in the morning, but still that’s no excuse.”

3. Determine never to repeat the action. Learn a better way to handle whatever it was that preceded your offensive action/words.

And say it aloud to the other. Telling the other your resolve for the future is more than just part of the apology; it’s also something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

  • The more specific the better.
  • Stated in positive terms – what you will do differently – rather than what you won’t do. “I will be more careful…” rather than “I will not be so careless…”

Learn from your mistake. Include it in your apology. And try to avoid repeating it.

What you might learn:

  • What makes your spouse angry, disappointed, frustrated.
  • What your spouse finds offensive.
  • Your spouse’s sensitive and vulnerable spots

If you don’t admit that you made a mistake, you will not take the time and thought to learn what you did to offend and injure your spouse.

4. An apology should end with a request for forgiveness.
Asking for forgiveness places control in the other person’s hands, since they don’t have to forgive you just because you’ve apologized.  “Please forgive me…”

You might have to apologize and ask for forgiveness again.

  • A hurt is a hurt and needs healing – no matter if it was an accident or done on purpose. We must apologize for any hurt that we inflicted.
  • Do not expect a reciprocal apology. Just own up to your part. You are only responsible for and can only control your own words.

A good apology means laying yourself bare. It means putting yourself in the other person’s position, giving them what they want and need.

In short, it’s not about you.

After you’ve apologized.

  • Let them respond as they feel. They are entitled to still be upset or sad or scared.

  • Allow them to process. Accept that your apology may not be acknowledged right away. You may have to apologize again.

  • Allow them to still be upset.

  • This most definitely is not the time to tell them how to feel.

  • Accept that your apology may not be accepted right away.

Something to consider:

  • Some people need to hear different words in an apology. You may have to say your apology in a different way for the other to really work through what happened and move on. (Think: ‘apology languages’)

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