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How to Offer a True Apology to Your Partner

Dr. Butch Losey

As human beings, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt others, and we need to offer a sincere apology in order to make things right. But what does it mean to truly apologize from a clinical point of view?

First and foremost, it's important to recognize that an apology is more than just saying "I'm sorry." It's about taking responsibility for your actions and showing remorse for the harm that you have caused. This means acknowledging the impact of your actions for your partner, and expressing genuine regret for what you have done. When I am working with couples, I often prefer to challenge couples to focus on a strong impact statement, which extends further than just saying “sorry”.

To offer a true apology, it's essential to be specific about what you are apologizing for. Simply saying "I'm sorry" without providing any details can feel insincere and lacking in accountability. Instead, you should be specific about what you did and why it was wrong. For example, instead of saying "I'm sorry for what I did," you could say "I'm sorry for raising my voice at you and making you feel disrespected." This shows that you understand the impact of what you did and are taking responsibility for it. You own it.

It's also important to avoid making excuses or shifting blame when offering an apology. When you make excuses, you are essentially saying that your actions were justified in some way, which undermines the apology. For example, if you say "I'm sorry, but you were being unreasonable," you are suggesting that your partner was at fault for your behavior. Instead, you should take full responsibility for your actions and avoid making excuses. Another phrase I often hear is “I am sorry that I made you feel that way”. This diffuses your accountability and gives little insight to your partner that you understand what you did wrong.

A true apology should include an acknowledgment of your partner’s feelings and a willingness to make amends. This means listening to your partner’s perspective and understanding how your actions have affected them. You should also be willing to take steps to repair the harm that you have caused, whether that means making a tangible gesture such as offering to pay for something that was damaged, or simply taking the time to listen and understand your partner’s perspective.

In summary, offering a true apology means:

1) taking responsibility for your actions;

2) being specific about what you are apologizing for;

3) listening to your partner's perspective;

3) identifying the impact of your behavior;

4) and offering to make amends.

By doing so, you can help to repair your relationship and foster a sense of accountability and trust.

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