A GOOD Apology
Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, a simple “I am sorry” is sufficient, or even all that is appropriate. However, in a close relationship when the wounding is more significant or ongoing, or the offended one is very upset, simply saying “I am sorry” can feel like sweeping the matter under the carpet, quickly getting it over with and wanting to move on, when the upset person is needing more to feel better.
What is needed is what we’ll call a GOOD or complete apology, including:
1. Acknowledgement of what you did or didn’t do.
e.g. “ I raised my voice.”, “I did not call you like I said I would.”,” I said “. . . .”which was mean.”, etc.
2. Validation and empathy of the other person’s feelings as you perceive them.
e.g. “I imagine that might have made you feel hurt, disrespected, unimportant, unloved, blamed, etc. Is that correct?” and then listen to him or her share their feelings.
e.g.: “I am sorry for action or inaction, because I care about you and would never want you to feel that way/ you and your feeling are important to me or It makes me sad to know that I have hurt you” etc.
4. Addressing the future.
e.g. “ I’ll make sure that it never happens again”, or “I’ll do my best to do better in the future”, or “How can I make it up to you?” Best of all, come up with a plan to prevent the hurtful behavior, or commit to reflecting on how to come up with a strategy and sharing it with the one who was wounded.
Here is an example: I was late getting home and late for dinner. (acknowledgement) I imagine that might have made you feel hurt since it is our anniversary. I am sorry I wasn’t able to get things better organized at work to prevent this because the anniversary is very important to me and it makes me sad to know it must have hurt you. (apology, validation and empathy) I plan to focus on a work plan so I don’t have to stay late like this again. (addressing the future)
This type of complete apology usually leaves the hurt person feeling understood, validated, empathized with, cared about, and with a commitment to be protected from similar wounding. It also makes the wounded person respect the other for acknowledging and holding him/herself accountable for his/her behavior. Obviously, this is very healing for the wounded person, and for the relationship. Often, it also makes the apologizing person feel a lot better to apologize, because the behavior does not fit with their intentions and the best of who they are. Also, they care about the other’s feelings and want to help heal them, and make things right.
You can definitely include that you did not intend to hurt the other. Also, it is fine to explain what was going on for you that resulted in the wounding behavior, but it is very important that this FOLLOW the above apology, with a pause in between. This is because the wounded person needs the healing of the above apology first, then they are more likely to be interested in why, rather than seeing it as defensiveness when their emotional needs have not been met.
Saying “I am sorry” is simply saying that I care that you got hurt. It is NOT saying that you are a bad person, and it is not necessarily saying that you behaved badly. When you have behaved in a potentially hurtful way, you should acknowledge that. But sometimes it is just a misunderstanding, or something like being late because an accident delayed traffic, and you are just expressing that you care that the other person was affected. Even if the person’s hardships had nothing remotely to do with you, you can say, “I’m sorry that you had to go through that” as a way of showing that you care. Realizing that makes it easier to say “I am sorry”, which is often a phrase yearned for and not heard enough.