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how to say i'm sorry

It is not always easy to say ‘I’m sorry’ to your partner, especially if you feel like you are always having to apologize. The reasons it’s tough could range from:

- past resentments

- feeling justified

- not wanting to cause pain

- not knowing exactly what you did

Any of these

We all make mistakes and the quality of our apology can speak volumes. A sideways or bad apology can make a bad situation worse, and timing is so important. An apology received too soon might seem inauthentic. Apologize too late, then it can add to the hurt, anger or frustration that’s already there.

So, take the time to mindfully plan what you will say when you find yourself in hot water.


1. An account of the situation

2. Acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done

3. Taking responsibility with a statement of regret

4. Asking for forgiveness

5. Making a promise or offering amends

When you apologize include what happened, so that both of you are talking about the same thing in the same way. Then acknowledge the damage or hurt that you may have caused. You will want to be responsible for the actions or inactions you took that resulted in the hurt or damage. Let them know you are regretful for what you did or did not do. Asking for forgiveness is always a necessary step. When we ask our partner or anyone for forgiveness, it gives them a chance to respond. They need to be heard, and respected and this gives them that opportunity. Even if they never come around, this is an important gesture that puts the ball in their court. It gives them the choice to pick it up or not. Lastly, offer a promise or make amends about the wrong doing.

But what if they don't forgive you?

This is the hardest part. Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, it isn't enough. This includes apologies with anyone. A well-executed apology is twelve times more likely to bring about forgiveness. Sometimes, people may hesitate forgiving because they need more from you. Ask them then, what can I do to make this right, can we brainstorm together? This shows that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make things right.

There might be times when your apology isn’t accepted, no matter how well-intended. You could say then, I understand your point of view, and I’m sorry that my mistake is what got us here. If you have a change of heart, I would hope for another chance to work this out. You may not understand the person’s emotions, but it is important to allow for the other person’s experience.

A new habit

Appreciation Over Apologies

An apology, when needed cannot be replaced with anything else, or can it? Instead of avoiding, and saying nothing, try replacing that I’m sorry with two different words - Thank you. Not an off handed kind of thank you but one that could change a mistake into a learning moment for you.

Naturally, you will need to test this out yourself—which is exactly what I expect you to do. It will take some thought as you start, because there will be times when a regular I’m sorry will seem to be the only choice. Try thank you a few times, and you will see where it can be a favorable option.

My spouse often points out to me when I slip up. He will tell me that I left the refrigerator door open, or the stove on, things like that. This last time, I didn’t respond immediately with, ‘Ugh’, I’m so sorry about that!” as I usually would. Instead, I said thank you for the heads up, I’m trying to be more conscious. That turned into a learning moment for me. What if I simply check the stove and the refrigerator everytime I leave the kitchen, even if I don't use them? And that is what I do now, I don't leave the kitchen without checking.

Swapping out these words is a small change to make. It will take a bit more effort at first, but worth it for the amazing impact it can make.

Sometimes, you might have noticed feeling guilty when you say 'I'm sorry' so often. It can cast a dark shadow over the conversation—like starting things off on the wrong foot.

Switching that negative ‘I’m sorry’ to a positive ‘thank you’, can move you more quickly to recovery. You will spend less time mentally obsessing over your screw up. Because your genuine “thank you” provides a natural segue to being together with ease.

I have found this approach handles more than about half of the ‘I’m sorrys’ you might deliver. With practice you will learn when I’m sorry or thank you is better suited. As an example, I accidentally knocked over a good friend's favorite vase. It went crashing to the floor, I hardly think thank you would have been appropriate. The better response was “I’m sorry - let’s get you a new vase.”

Put in place this new habit and you might find it can improve your communications. It’s one way I’ve found that can stop one from over-apologizing. And it transforms remorse-filled exchanges into something constructive and upbeat. What more could you want?


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