'I'm Sorry': Expressing Regret the Right Way

Learn how to apologize appropriately and with sincerity in any situation.

Couple in lawn chairs by lake

When conflict arises, are you the person who’s quick to apologize, wanting to sweep everything under the rug so the tension goes away?  Or are you the one who tends to hold that hurt for a while, allowing the offensive words to gain a life of their own? 

Most of us identify with one approach or the other when arguments happen in love. The problem is neither response leads to a true reconciliation that enhances the relationship, leading to a better understanding of each other.

The good news is there a method to apologizing that will not only allow your words to be heard, but also lead to emotional healing. The key is to learn how to ask for forgiveness that conveys the message of regret in a manner your significant needs to hear to accept your apology.

Asking for forgiveness is a lifestyle choice because a sincere apology carries with it the motivation to turn from the former way which caused the distress and go in another direction. The trust in your relationship grows when you demonstrate change in your actions and behaviors.

As a relationship coach, I have advised individuals to remember that whenever one overreacts to a comment or situation that there is something else that is triggering the reaction. It’s not in the current moment; you just put your finger on the button.

Have you had this experience in love?

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You’re engaged in some teasing banter with your loved one that goes a bit too far. You know just as the offending comment came out of your mouth, you said the wrong thing and a blow up was about to take place.

Perhaps this type of episode?

During a pleasant evening together you say something that triggers an eruption from your loved one. You are so surprised that all you can say is “I’m sorry,” which your sweetheart can’t hear in the heat of the moment. You don’t know what you need to be sorry about, but know it was the wrong thing to say. 

Those episodes can shake the relationship emotionally, but can be ideal opportunities to achieve closeness if you learn how to communicate your regret in the right way. Here’s my advice on how you can communicate a successful apology:

Don’t get defensive. Don’t underplay the other person’s feelings and try to wiggle out of the conflict. Just because what you said wouldn’t hurt you, those memories and emotions are very real and deserve your compassion.

Take ownership of your words. Include in your apology the words, “I am sorry that my (behavior/comment/tone of voice, etc.) hurt you. Period. Do not add the “but” disclaimer as it cancels out the apology. Communicate your understanding of what caused the distress and admit you are remorseful. 

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