It’s one thing to know when you’ve done wrong by your partner, but quite another to be able to apologize in a way that won’t only make the situation worse.
A fundamental problem many of us will experience at some point in our lives is that no one ever really taught us exactly how to apologize. Because sometimes, “I love you” are not the 3 most important words you can say to the person you love most.
We all make mistakes sometimes
Picture the scene.
You’ve said something hurtful to your partner. You dwell on it, overwhelmed with guilt. You want to show just how genuinely sorry you are, so you apologize. You hope to reestablish the precious connection the two of you have forged over all this time. But instead of your partner forgiving you, the situation escalates emotionally. As your partner attacks your personality, you regress into negative behaviors and once again feel the need to lash out, wondering how on earth you could have been apologizing to them just minutes before. Sound familiar?
It’s common for people to apologize without having fully considered how the apology might be received and processed by their partner. And a lot of this boils down to your attachment style.
Attachment theory was formulated in the 1960s by psychologist John Bowlby. He hypothesized that the kind of parenting we experience as children influences our worldview as adults, including how we think about ourselves and our loved ones, how we process emotions, and how secure we feel in ourselves. Individuals with a secure attachment style are empathic, self-aware and able to regulate their emotions. These are all essential skills when repairing a relationship and reconciling with one’s partner.
Countless studies have demonstrated that securely attached individuals are able to deliver more effective and comprehensive apologies. Not only that, they are also more open to the prospect of forgiving a partner who has done them wrong than are individuals who are insecurely attached.
A person with an insecure attachment style may experience difficulty regulating their emotions. Their feelings can lead them down dark paths to memories of painful past events and previous transgressions committed by their partner. They still desire an apology, but they may well reject it upon its reception. This psychological paradox has been termed revolving anger: the insecurely attached individual can find peace neither with themselves nor their partner.
So what exactly makes for an effective, sincere apology?
How to apologize
Before we delve a little more deeply into precisely what constitutes a good apology, how can we recognize when either we or our partner is apologizing insincerely?
- Attempts to justify the transgression
- Blaming the other person
- Excusing the behavior
- Downplaying the impact and consequences of the wrongdoing
- Attempting to deny involvement in the first place
A person delivering an authentic apology, however:
- Expresses remorse
- Accepts responsibility
- Attempts to repair the damage
- Offers an explanation without deflecting responsibility
- Promises to not commit such a transgression again
- Acknowledges the specific harm that has been done
- Admits that they were in the wrong
- Asks for forgiveness
Individuals who are insecurely attached may take longer than average to process an apology because they need more time to fully liberate themselves of negative emotions and reach a state of forgiveness. Regardless of your partner’s attachment style, though, if you have done wrong then they need you to demonstrate unambiguously that you ‘get it’: you understand exactly what you did wrong, you feel shame, regret and remorse about it and you are deeply sorry for causing them emotional pain. If you are saying sorry wholeheartedly, you won’t feel the need to qualify your apology with a ‘but’. A ‘but’ only signals that you are still on the defense and don’t truly believe that the blame lies entirely with you. This can undo any positive effect your apology has had.
Do you need help saying sorry?
Never enter into an apology on the assumption that forgiveness from your partner will be forthcoming. If it is not, do your utmost to not lash out. This will only worsen the situation further. Don’t weaponize your partner’s unrelated transgressions; the conversation right here and now is about what you have done, nothing more. Do all you can to show your partner the remorse, guilt and mortification that is emotionally crippling you. And do be kind to yourself, too. The shame we feel when we have done wrong by the person we love most can lie heavy on the soul.
Every couple could do with a helping hand once in a while. If you are experiencing difficulties in your relationship, we can help. Maclynn International is far more than a multi-award-winning elite international dating agency. Our in-house relationship psychologist and dating coach Madeleine Mason Roantreee has over 15 years’ experience helping people work through their issues in their relationships. Get in touch with Maclynn International today and let’s get you on the path to reconciliation, forgiveness and happiness with your partner.