Give a Good Apology

This is How Positive Change Happens…


A good apology is one of the best gifts to give and receive.

Do you know how to give a good apology?

When I do couples counselling, I really get to see how people give and receive apologies. I get to see the kinds of apologies that don’t work (and do further damage) and I also get to see apologies that work and therefore, create more closeness and bonding.

I help couples to learn how to give and receive good apologies and to experience the healing benefits of them. When we receive a good apology, we know. It’s like we have a built in system in our bodies, hearts, and brains that recognizes a good apology. We can feel it repairing the wound inside. We feel acknowledged and we feel relieved.

First, I’d like to share with you some examples of apologies that don’t work.

Apologies that don’t work:

“I’m sorry, okay?!” (often said in an abrupt and frustrated tone)
“I’m sorry but…”
“I’m sorry if you feel…”
“I hope you don’t feel…”
“It wasn’t my intention to…”
“If you hadn’t ___________ then I wouldn’t have____________”
“Look, I said I was sorry!”
“I’m sorry but that’s your perception”
And of course, not saying anything at all and expecting it to be a given for the person to know you’re sorry is not an apology.

These non-apologies dressed up as apologies do nothing to repair a hurt or a rupture. It can even make it worse. Knowing how to effectively apologize is one of the most important skills we can develop in life. It has a huge effect on our overall quality of life.

This is what a good apology looks like and sounds like:

It’s heartfelt, sincere, and deep
It is given with eye contact that is soft and body language that is open
The words are said in a soft/gentle, slow way
It’s obvious through this body language, tone of voice, and the words used that the person feels remorse and feels the hurt the other person feels
the words “I’m sorry” are offered along with the following:

1. Acknowledgement of wrongdoing (in a specific way)
2. Acceptance of responsibility (no blame or defensiveness)
3. Expression of remorse and empathy
4. Offer of compensation (that is meaningful to the receiver)
5. Communication not to commit the transgression again in the future

Sometimes, it helps to write your apology in a card and then sit and read it aloud to the one you’ve hurt.

We can see that a good apology offers much more than “I’m sorry”. It helps to accept that offering a good apology is a process with multiple steps involved. Sometimes, depending on the transgression and the damage done, offering a good apology needs to be done more than once. Initially, it may seem like a difficult process and that would be best avoided. However, through dedication and practice, we feel how powerful and rewarding giving a good apology is. The benefits can be felt immediately, by both the giver and receiver, and the relationship is richer for it. And that’s excellent motivation to give good apologies freely when need be going forward.

Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson (Book)