Do you Ever Struggle to Give a Meaningful Apology?

Do you Ever Struggle to Give a Meaningful Apology?

Here’s a relationship myth that seems to have been missed in past articles and it’s quite a big one (sorry for the oversight!): ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’  This myth needs to be busted, once and for all, as it can be the source of much pain in a relationship. A lack of apology (or even a poorly given one) can cause a partner to believe their feelings were dismissed. This can then impact how valid they see their feelings within the relationship.


A lack of apology can also lead to feeling disrespected, without due credit given to the emotional engagement and investment they have put into the relationship. Feelings of being taken for granted in this way can cause confusion and resentment. The confusion may arise from the person feeling guilty for wanting their feelings acknowledged via an apology which could develop in to resentment if they do not see that acknowledgement being given.

Buying in to the ‘no apology necessary’ myth can also lead to partners not acknowledging or even recognizing each other’s boundaries and the times they might be overstepped, even inadvertently. This can create a false idea around where the boundaries actually lie.

An apology can function to let the person know many things, simultaneously, in one simple word. It can let a partner know that their feelings have been considered enough to acknowledge that they have been impacted, accidentally or not. It can allow both partners a space in which they can be heard and unpack what has lead to the behaviour/words that are being apologized for. And it can function to develop mutual respect within the relationship.

The expression of remorse can sound easy enough but is often challenging, for many reasons. Below we’ll examine why apologies are difficult as well as the ways in which they can be made easier.


I’m Sorry 101: The Barriers to an Effective Apology and How to Overcome them


Pride: One reason it can be difficult to apologize is that the act of saying ‘sorry’ has at times been perceived as punitive and denigrating. When perceived in this way, an apology can be made grudgingly or defensively. This then impacts the recipient as the lack of genuine apology suggests that their feelings have been unheard and dismissed.

Instead, as disingenuous as this sounds, de-personalize the apology. The apology is not about the person making the apology alone and is as much about the other person. If making an apology is a struggle, it might be an idea to reflect at what the true barriers are and examine the ‘facts’ around the issue (i.e. what has really occurred. For example, ‘I was unreasonable’) as opposed to the ‘feelings’ (i.e. the wants. For example, ‘I want her to get over this’). If the facts suggest that there has been an over-step, acceptance of that is actually a basis of self-growth (such as learning to see beyond oneself, learning to sit with the discomfort of self-acceptance and to grow beyond what makes you uncomfortable with yourself) rather than self-diminishing.

Tokenism: Apologies can often be delivered as a box-ticking exercise, much like a 2-year-old pressed to say sorry after having clouted a sibling, without any awareness of what was wrong about it. Understanding the apology in context can be helpful in making it become a genuine and functional aspect of any conflict resolution, rather than a token exercise.

When delivering an apology, knowing the basics around it can make the apology more genuine and avoid tokenism. 


The basics include:

  • What is the apology for: what was said/done that required it? This will allow some thought being put in to why the other partner may be hurt, developing empathy and recognising their boundaries. Conversely, this thought process can also allow the person making the apology to gauge whether or not they agree, which can then be addressed at the same time.


  • What is the apology meant to achieve: Partners can have unrealistic and therefore unfair expectations of what they feel the apology is meant to achieve: forgiveness. However, it is important to remember that an apology is the goal in itself, and not a means to an end! Some feel that the apology is a pathway to self-defence: this is the classic ‘I’m sorry, but…’ and contradiction in itself! The suffix of ‘but’ belies any authenticity of the ‘sorry’. If there is a valid need for clarification (and not defensiveness) then that can be framed away from the apology.


  • Mindless Language: People often use broad language to deliver their apologies, which can contribute to the recipient feeling unheard and can lead to discord.


Think of the exchange below:

Partner A: “I’m sorry if I made you mad.”

Partner B: “Mad? I’m not mad. I’ve already said that several times! I’m upset.”

Partner A: “Well, yes. Ok then, sorry if I made you upset.”

Partner B: “If you don’t even know how I felt, then what are you apologizing for?!”

If the person making the apology understands why they are making it and what they hope to achieve, the language should reflect that in no uncertain terms.

Enter the magic of specific language:

Partner A: “I am sorry if you felt upset after I raised my voice in a way you saw as aggressive. While that was not my intent, I can understand that it can be upsetting to hear someone raise their voice so loud.”

Note how Partner A has also sensitively addressed her/his own differing perception of intent and has provided a gentle clarification that does not rebut or un-do the apology.

This is obviously, in no way an exhaustive list of the complexities of this relational issue but can shed some (simple) light on a common problem.


By Ishma Alvi
Relationship Psychology at Vida Psychology


And whilst you’re here….

Do you find small disagreements with your partner can turn into big arguments? If you do, you’re not alone. The good news is there are some easy to learn techniques to help you reinvent unhealthy patterns. This is why Vida is running a workshop on effective communication in relationships. Click the below link to find out more:


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