Relationship Advice: What Does a True Apology Look Like?

Let’s face it. We can hurt those we love severely. Our partners have everything invested in us. They pin all their hopes and dreams on sharing our lives and on making our relationship work. Then something happens. It might be a fight, a betrayal, a failure or a disappointment. Whatever the injury to the relationship, if it’s not repaired there are consequences. These consequences can be lingering hurt, lack of trust, resentment, anger or isolation. There’s nothing worse than knowing you hurt the one you love most. When you come to the realization that you’ve done major damage to your relationship, you’ve caused an injury it can be a big wake up call. You want to be forgiven. You want to make it right. You have to make a sincere apology, but what if it’s not accepted? What does a true apology look like? How can you repair the damage you’ve done? If you’re truly sorry and you wish to make things right, you can make a sincere apology and be forgiven. Here’s how to do it.

Get down into the meat of the issue by talking about the injury, why it happened and what it was in the relationship that wasn’t working at the time the injury occurred. This has to be done without blame and by removing some of the emotion that surrounds the injury. The partner that caused the injury has to be prepared to show total remorse for their actions and to give a sincere apology to the partner who was hurt. **

The hurt partner has to be very emotionally vulnerable, and that’s extremely difficult, especially after being hurt. They have to know that they are emotionally safe to have this conversation as they are potentially opening themselves up for more anguish as they relive the ordeal. The partner that was hurt describes their pain and the way they feel about their partner now that the injury has occurred. This may be very hard to hear, but the person who caused the injury must know how deeply they hurt the one they love and that the pain of this is unbearable and must not be repeated. Often part of the problem in the relationship is we have trouble letting our partner know about some of our emotional wounds. To truly have forgiveness, the person who has hurt you has to have an understanding about the true wound. That often is not the case. If this has happened you may need to work on having an emotionally safe relationship to have the right dialogue.

The partner who caused the injury must own up to his/her responsibility for the action and be ready to acknowledge that they caused pain to their loved one. They have to share that they hate how they hurt you and feel genuine remorse for their actions. This is followed by the sincere apology and the statement that, “I am here now and I feel badly.” The sincere desire to repair the relationship must be felt by both parties. For this to feel sincere If you’re the hurt partner, you have to believe that your partner truly hates how they’ve hurt you and truly needs your love in order to forgive themselves for what happened. The shame and anguish they feel is about the hurt and injury to your closeness and the impact of their actions on the relationship. Believing that this realization of how they hurt the one person they never wanted to hurt has deeply affected them allows you to forgive. When you believe that nothing is more important to them than rebuilding your connection, forgiveness becomes much easier. The person’s words, actions, and emotions need to be aligned with one another to have a sense that the partner truly feels badly about the pain they’ve caused.

Once the sincere apology has been given and accepted then the two of you can move onto repairing your connection, meeting each other’s needs and courting each other again the way you did when you first met. These are the steps to moving ahead together in a loving and authentic way beginning the first moment that forgiveness happens. The key here is to create a new relationship. Not going backward but looking ahead to making the relationship new. You must create a new relationship that doesn’t contain the issues that led to the prior injury. It IS possible to love and forgive each other no matter how terribly hurt you were. Building a new relationship based on trust, authenticity and a deep and lasting connection can happen.

**The inspiration for this article came from author Sue Johnson's work as a couples counselor. You can find more information on Dr. Johnson's work at

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