Crafting an Effective Apology
Written by: Ashlee Wong, AMFT
Relationships are often fraught with opportunities for miscommunication and hurt feelings. It can be a natural, expected process when two separate people are in a relationship together whether we mean romantic partners, friends, or even parents and children. However, we also have a responsibility to apologize whenever there has been such a rift in the relationship to maintain the desire to continue moving forward with the relationship. If I were to ask you to apologize to the last person with whom you had a disagreement, do you feel confident in your ability to do so genuinely? I have noticed apologizing is an artform and there are a few tips I have found to be helpful to ensure the conversation is resolved.
The first tip I have found to be helpful is acknowledgement of our personal involvement in the situation. I want to be clear that this does not mean I think one person or party should take the full weight of the blame just to move forward with the relationship. Instead, I think it’s helpful to recognize that even if we did not start an argument, we almost certainly contributed to it in some way. I usually see this as people perhaps unkind language or raising their voices in response to the rise in emotions during arguments. A common example I see is when I teach parents that while they may not have started the argument, it is important to model how to take responsibility to their children. In this case, “I’m sorry I did not manage my emotions better during our conversation” would be a simple yet effective way to demonstrate acknowledgement of the situation without taking on more of the responsibility than is appropriate.
Secondly, I think it’s important not to over explain your own thought processes in the event an argument was due to an offense caused by our own actions. In such an apology, you are not the focus of the conversation and therefore, it’s important to remain focused on demonstrating empathy towards the other person and remorse for our actions. I see this often when couples fight as one partner will express feelings such as sadness or hurt and the other will respond with “I’m sorry, but you need to understand why I did this”. There is a time and place for allowing the other person to hear your intentions because it is an important piece in having a healthy discussion of the situation, but it is not in this moment when we are being held accountable for our actions. In this situation, “I’m sorry that I hurt you” is the best way to demonstrate our ability to listen and hear how we have affected our loved one.
Lastly, I think it is important to manage our expectations as we request forgiveness from the other person regardless of who holds the lion’s share of responsibility. If we are requesting for them to forgive us, we open ourselves up to the possibility they may choose not to do so. I think this is important to highlight because having unrealistic expectations of any situation often leads to disappointment which may perpetuate the argument at hand. Similarly, if you receive an apology from someone and are not ready to accept it, you can also choose to reject their apology either permanently or until you feel there has been enough time to process the situation for yourself.
Written by: ASHLEE WONG
MA, Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987