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  • Writer's pictureAveril

How to Apologise to Heal Hearts, Repair Trust, and Strengthen Bonds

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Apologies (good ones, at least) are more than mere words. They are transformative acts that have the power to heal wounds, provide relief to both parties, mend relationships, and foster personal growth. In the context of relationships, offering a genuine apology demonstrates respect, empathy, and a commitment to repair the bond between people.

The significance and benefits of apologising

Apologising in relationships is an essential tool for resolving conflicts, restoring trust, and maintaining emotional connection. When conflicts arise, hurt feelings can linger and create emotional distance between people. An effective and sincere apology serves as a bridge, allowing individuals to acknowledge their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions, and express genuine remorse. It demonstrates a willingness to make amends and emphasises the importance of the relationship over personal pride or ego.

For the apologiser, a good apology, in which you accept you have done something wrong or unhelpful but maintain hold a sense of your own overall worth and self esteem, is freeing – you don’t have to expend so much energy getting defensive and justifying yourself. It’s easier to find peace with yourself when you’ve done what you can to put things right and committed to doing your absolute best not to make the same mistake.

The link between apologising and self-esteem

Healthy and stable levels of self-esteem support apologising more easily and well. If we feel that acknowledging a mistake will lessen us, that admitting we have done something wrong means we are not good enough or will be rejected, we might be tempted to fight against it. This can also happen at the other end of the self-esteem scale, if we have an over-inflated sense of ourselves and believe we are beyond reproach. A balanced sense of our self worth, that we understand cannot be significantly detracted from by acknowledging our humanness and setting right our errors, will allow us to incorporate the occasional mistake into our sense of ourselves without drastically shaking it.

Knowing when to apologise

Using good boundaries will help you determine when an apology is appropriate. Apologies are for when you have done something that has caused distress or harm to another person. Don’t apologise when you have genuinely done nothing wrong, but keep in mind that you don’t always have to completely agree about what happened in order to accept that they have felt hurt (i.e., it’s unhelpful to focus on “I wouldn’t be upset by that so you shouldn’t be either” or “I didn’t mean to upset you/I didn’t mean what I said so you shouldn’t be upset”). Separate intention and impact – we might not have had the intention to hurt the other person, but our actions may have caused that impact, and that’s what we are apologising for.

Also, be honest with yourself in your intentions for apologising – if you are expecting a certain response to your apology and will be angry or upset if you don’t get it, work on coming from a more centred place and apologising because it is the right thing to do by your own values, regardless of the other person’s reaction.

Key components of a meaningful apology

Taking ownership

Taking ownership of our mistakes is crucial for a sincere apology. It means refraining from shifting blame, defensiveness, or making excuses. Instead, focus on your own actions, even if there’s more discussion to be had about the other person’s contributions to an issue. By accepting accountability, you show respect for the feelings and experiences of the other person, and you are less likely to start up another back-and-forth about who did what and who is to blame.

Sincere acknowledgment

A meaningful apology genuinely recognises the impact and hurt caused to the other person. This requires the ability to empathise with the emotions they experienced. Remember what you know of them, what is important or difficult for them, what they might have found particularly hurtful, and acknowledge it directly.

Genuine remorse

Expressing genuine remorse shows that you are less likely to repeat the behaviour, and goes a long way to re-establishing the all-important element of trust in a relationship.

Committing to doing better

Name specifically what you are plan to do differently next time, to give the other person confidence and contribute further to the rebuilding of trust.

A structure for a good apology

Try this structure the next time you want to apologise - it doesn't have to be a huge speech, just genuine. Take a moment to get into the right state of mind – balance humility with remembering a steady sense of your own worth, and bring the energy and intention to make the relationship better:

1. Say sorry, and name the specific behaviour you are sorry for.

I’m so sorry for raising my voice at you before.

I’m genuinely sorry for not calling when I was going to be home 2 hours later than I said I would.

I’m sorry I didn’t follow up on that email like I promised.

2. Express remorse and empathy for the impact on the other person – show that you can put yourself in their shoes.

I shouldn’t have done that, I know it scares you when I get loud like that.

It was thoughtless of me and I know you would’ve been worried.

I feel embarrassed that I let you down and it meant you had to deal with the email, you’ve got enough on your plate.

3. Reflect/commit to doing better next time, and state specifically what you will do if possible.

I realise I need to take time out earlier before I get that angry, and I can let you know if I'm upset without raising my voice or being harsh.

I’ll let my friends know in advance what time I need to leave, but I’ll also make sure I call or text if I see I’m not going to get home at the usual time.

I’m going to set reminders in my calendar when I make a promise like that.

4. Make amends.

Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?

Is there anything else you want me to know?

Does that feel like it would help, or is there something else?

And leave out:

Justifications (I’ve just been so busy and tired lately; I didn’t mean to).

Switch-tracking (bringing up other issues).

Blaming (well if you didn’t ABC then I wouldn’t XYZ; You did it first, etc…)

Expectations that you will fully and instantly forgiven and the issue forgotten.

Apologising is a transformative act that holds immense power in relationships. It requires humility, empathy, and a genuine desire to repair the emotional bond. By offering a meaningful apology, individuals can contribute to healing wounds, restoring trust, and deepening emotional connection. Apologies serve as bridges, leading to resolution, personal growth, and a stronger, more resilient partnership. Embracing the power of apologies allows us to repair conflicts with grace, cultivate understanding, and create a foundation of trust and emotional intimacy that sustains the relationship for the long term.

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