Relationship Coaching
   with Amy Newshore M.Ed, CMHC

Powerful • Productive • Result-Oriented

Let’s Talk Relationships: How to give a good apology: Apologizing is key to restoring trust in relationships

Amy Newshore


For the Recorder

Published: 01-26-2024 12:40 PM

It is inevitable that we are going to make mistakes and sometimes hurt others, even those we love. When a relationship has been impacted by harmful words or actions, offering a sincere, heartfelt apology can go a long way toward mending the rupture. Apologizing is an important step towards restoring trust and developing understanding between the people involved, so that the relationship can move forward.

Karina Schumann PhD, who researches the impact of apologies on relationships, states: “Apologies are one of the most powerful tools that people can use in their lives, whether it’s for a small little insult, or joke that was unintentionally harmful, or for something really major and severe that can destroy a relationship.” She adds that when trust has been damaged between people, intentionally or not, apologies are often necessary in order for there to be true healing and forgiveness.

Ways that apologies go wrong

We’ve all heard, or even have said something like: “I’m sorry ... that this hurt you; that you were offended by this; that you took what I said the wrong way… I was really upset and didn’t mean what I said.” These types of apologies generally don’t sit well with the one receiving them. There is judgment and blame towards them — with a message that they are “too sensitive” or that they “misunderstood.” The focus on the hurt person’s reaction implies that they are the problem. The speaker is not owning nor recognizing that their words and actions may have caused harm, whether or not it was intentional.

Susan McCarthy and Marjorie Ingall, co-authors of “Sorry Sorry Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies,” state that the main problem we all face when it comes to apologies is that we don’t know how to make a “good apology.” They assert that people need to empathize with the other person. For example: “Wow, I can really see how my words/actions have affected you.” Their research has found that in about 90% of the apologies studied, expressing empathy for the one harmed is noticeably missing.

What are the benefits of apologies?

Stronger relationships

Apologizing is an essential part of maintaining healthy relationships. When we take responsibility for our actions or words that have negatively affected another, apologizing can have a tremendously positive impact on the well-being of both people, and enable the relationship to thrive.

Enhanced well-being

Studies show that the more loving and supportive our relationships are, the healthier we are overall. Giving and receiving apologies can enhance our overall well-being and quality of life. Apologies help people to let go of the past and move on without carrying long-term guilt and resentment, which can be detrimental to one’s health. Apologies reduce stress levels, strengthen relationships, improve mental health, boost immunity, and enhance social connections. By preventing conflicts from escalating, apologies can bring about significant relief and peace — experiences I believe we all seek.

Increased trust

When we acknowledge and take responsibility for our mistakes, we are showing that we are trustworthy, in both personal and professional relationships. I imagine that in the workplace, relationships with bosses would only be enhanced if those in positions of power were role models for taking accountability and being willing to apologize when needed.

Forgiveness and moving on

We can’t control when or if forgiveness will be given after offering an apology. However, there is a much greater chance that genuine forgiveness will result when the apology is coming from the heart. The one able to forgive can start to let go of the distress related to the other’s actions or words, instead of reliving it over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the past is erased, forgotten or excused. It just enables the one forgiving and the one being forgiven to be free to move on in life and have more space for inner peace.

What makes a good apology?

There’s something very powerful about giving or receiving a heartfelt, genuine apology. Insincere or incomplete apologies can lead to more hurt. To make sure your apology is a full, effective and meaningful one, there are certain elements to include.

The six parts of great apologies:

■Always include the words “I am sorry” or I apologize”. Don’t only say that you “regret” your behavior.

■Be specific about what you did that you are apologizing for. Do not say “I am sorry for what happened last night” but rather, “I am sorry that I left you with all of the clean-up after the dinner party last night.”

■State your understanding of how your actions impacted the other. “I imagine that you felt annoyed and frustrated when I didn’t follow through with our agreement that I would do the clean-up.”

■Invite the other person to share their feelings and concerns, and listen with an open mind. “I am open to hearing more about how that was for you when I went straight to bed and left the mess for you to clean up.”

■Let them know what you will do to make things better, now and in the future. “I will take on doing the dishes on the nights when it’s your turn this week. And, in the future I will set reminders on my phone, to help me remember to do my part to honor our agreement when I get tired at night.”

■Ask what you can do to make things better. “Is there anything more that you need from me?”

I am cheering you on to acknowledge our shared humanity — that we all make mistakes and do or say things that might damage our relationships. Thankfully, apologizing gives us a way to heal and rebuild trust with others. Having the willingness and the skills to offer a good apology is part of being honest, humble and showing integrity. This just may lead to more secure, loving relationships in our own lives and in the world.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.


Feel Free To Contact Me