Offering an apology after you have wronged another person does not come easy to everyone. Some people really struggle with the art of apologizing. However, you can learn how to apologize in the right way and with the best chance of restoring your relationship.
Why Should We Apologize?
Apologizing is your way of telling someone they are important in your life and you want to heal the relationship by acknowledging your wrongdoing. When you don’t offer an apology and show no remorse for your actions, it conveys to the other person that they don’t mean much to you. The Scriptures tell us:
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14 NIV)
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)
Guidelines for Apologizing
Express Genuine Remorse
If you are truly sincere in your apology, that message will come through. If you are not, that message will be obvious as well. Most people can tell whether others are being genuine. Therefore, when you offer an apology, remember that your loved ones are probably going to pick up on any disingenuousness. Family members can usually spot our dishonesty cues more easily than other people can because they know us best. If your promises to change are hollow, they will know it. In contrast, if your promises are sincere, they will sense it. So, be honest and genuine. That is the only way you can build good relationships with your family members and others.
Check Your Tone of Voice and Body Language
Sincerity comes across not only in the words we use but also in the tone of voice and body language we employ. What you aren’t saying can communicate even more than your words. For example, when you apologize, do you look at the floor, or even worse, your phone? You need to look the wronged individual in the eyes to communicate your sincerity. If you can’t meet with them in person because you live too far away, then the next best thing is a video chat or phone call.
Texting an apology does not convey sincerity. I have been guilty of that in the past. It is so easy to text, and texting has become a primary mode of communication for many people. However, in a situation where you are asking for forgiveness, what texting can communicate to the other person is that they aren’t worth the time and energy of a phone call to apologize.
Focus on the Hurt You Caused, Not the Other
Be honest when you apologize, but do so with love and kindness. Honesty does not mean being blunt in expressing what you did or reminding the other person of their own failings. Imagine you borrowed your sister’s dress for an event and stained it, but instead of having it cleaned, you gave it back in that spoiled condition. You should apologize and make things right.
This is how not to make the apology: “I’m sorry I stained your dress and returned it that way, but you borrowed my earrings a few months back and I never saw them again, so we can call it even.” You may feel justified in this approach. However, will such a declaration heal your relationship, or will it simply make you feel on an equal level or even superior to your sister for a fleeting moment? We say things like this to try to create an even playing field, wanting the other person to know they aren’t so innocent either. We probably take this approach more often than we realize.
Yet the other person is already feeling hurt by us for the current situation. Then we bring up offenses they have committed against us. Their reaction is likely to be defensive. Once their self-protective walls go up, the apology process is greatly hindered. Arguing, blaming, and bringing up past transgressions have no place in an apology. They will only detract from it and make you seem insincere.
Here is a more appropriate response that can bring restoration and harmony once again: “I’m sorry I stained your dress and returned it that way. It was wrong of me. I want to make things right. I will pay for the dry-cleaning bill, so please let me take it to the cleaners or let me know how much I owe you.” When you make things right, it will create a better relationship in the long run.
Acknowledge Your Wrong
When you ask for forgiveness, you should fully admit you have wronged the other person as you acknowledge the feelings of hurt this has caused them. This discussion is about them, their feelings, and the restoration of your relationship. For instance, if you are apologizing for neglecting to invite a family member to a recent family gathering, you need to acknowledge how your actions injured them. Don’t try to justify your behavior.
This is an example of what not to say: “I’m sorry we didn’t include you at our family dinner, but we just assumed you wouldn’t want to come because you are always so busy and can’t make most gatherings.” Such a response makes it seem like you are trying to excuse your conduct and even place the blame on the other person. Even if they have declined every other dinner invitation, don’t bring up that fact. If your desire is a good family relationship, then just say you are sorry without any excuses or blame.
Here is a suggestion for a better way to apologize in such a situation: “I am sorry I didn’t invite you to the family dinner. It was a terrible mistake. I know you are hurt that you weren’t included and I am sorry I caused you that hurt. I promise it won’t happen again. You are a part of this family and will be invited to all family dinners in the future.” Acknowledging their feelings helps them see that you truly understand their perspective. They want to know that you comprehend their point of view and the hurt they are experiencing.
Explain How You Will Put Things Right
Your apology should incorporate your intention to restore trust in the relationship. Include the specifics of how you will make things right between you. For example, if you borrowed money from a family member and neglected to repay it, you need to express heartfelt regret to the person, along with a realistic plan to pay back the money. If you know that paying it back completely within a short period of time would likely be impossible, then let the person know your finances have become tight or you misjudged the income you would have available. Be sure to tell them your circumstances and reasons so they can understand your perspective.
Instead of promising that all the money will be paid back within a short time, you need to be truthful and realistic. People are more likely to be understanding when you are honest and making your very best effort to correct the situation. For instance, you might offer to make installment payments every week for the next four weeks until the debt is paid in full.
Putting things right says a great deal about your integrity. Making reparations following an apology is what keeps your reputation in good standing and may improve the way others perceive your character.
Apologizing also means that you are making a commitment to not offend the person in that way ever again. In most instances, the person needs to hear you say those words. It can have a tremendous effect on healing the relationship. Bring up the issue in a nonconfrontational manner and express your interest in making the relationship better. If the other person reacts poorly to what you are saying, then let it go.
There are some situations where making things right has more to do with your behavior moving forward than making reparations. For example, if you have been unfaithful in your marriage, you can’t go back and undo the sin you committed. However, you can make a promise to never be unfaithful again. You can commit to going to counseling with your spouse to work through the hurt and brokenness. You can also change other behavioral patterns as part of your sincere apology. If you cheated with someone whom you met on social media, your reparations for the infidelity might include deleting your social media accounts or providing your spouse with all passwords and full transparency regarding your online activity.
It is not always easy to make a commitment to change and then follow through with that decision. Often, we can’t make lasting changes without help from outside sources. If you are in a situation similar to the ones just described, do yourself and your relationships a favor by seeking out resources that can help you. Do an online search or obtain recommendations from trusted individuals to identify support groups that can assist you with your efforts to alter your behavior. Going to a counselor or therapist can also help you make real transformation happen. A book, magazine article, or blog about the topic might also enable you to better understand your own behavior and learn how to begin to make changes.
If you don’t know how to make the changes happen in your behavior and life, then you will not be successful. Understanding the steps involved and the kind of commitment necessary will enable you to start on a positive path toward transformation. Turn the situation over to God for His guidance and strength and find the professional assistance you need. All things are possible when you seek God’s help in your situation.
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
(Philippians 4:13 NLT)
A commitment to change is a wonderful decision when it leads you to improve yourself and heal and strengthen your relationships. What is most important is to follow through with your efforts to make those changes happen. The preservation of your relationships may depend on it.
Did you enjoy this blog post? Then you will love Magdalena Battles’ book 6 Hidden Behaviors That Destroy Families!