Apologies do not always work at repairing damaged relationships for a reason.  The reason is: many people have a misunderstanding of what an apology is and what it is for.  And many people avoid offering their apology because of this misunderstanding.  For many people apologizing means admitting they are wrong and the other person is right.  It’s an attempt to try to restore harmony in the relationship by admitting they are less than and the other person is better.

For other people it is a meaningless word…said to try to make the other person stop being angry.  This version of the apology may sometimes work, but it frequently does not because it is more of a manipulation than a sincere way of communicating.

So how do you apologize if you don’t think you did anything wrong?

The apologies that I see repairing a damaged relationship all have some things in common.  These apologies are more about acknowledging the other person’s feelings…that they felt hurt and that you regret saying or doing something that felt hurtful.  I call this kind of apology “The Reparative Apology”.  It is called by that name because it repairs damage to a relationship.

The key thing that makes this apology sincere and work better is this: You are not admitting you are wrong. You are simply noticing that the other person is hurt, and sharing with them that you did not want to cause them pain. And…you regret saying it in such a way that they felt pain. You wish you had said it in a way that was not so painful to them.

The reparative apology is said like this:

  1. “I’m sorry I said something so hurtful.”
  2. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
  3. “I wish I had handled it differently.”

It may not sound like much, but the results are magical.  I’ve noticed all three parts of the apology are useful.  And I’ve noticed that saying just one or two of the parts don’t work so well.  It works best when all three parts are said together, in the order listed above.

You can offer the Reparative Apology just after you said something hurtful or 10 years after you said it.  It will repair damage either way.

If you try this apology out, I think you will see it has an impact and success that other apologies lack.

Good luck in trying out the reparative apology in your life.  You are welcome to contact me with any questions, comments or results from using the reparative apology. 

If you have any questions about this article, write Don Wallach, MFT at his   website: www.donwallach.com or call at (415) 339-7890 or (707) 583-2305. Donald Wallach offers couples counseling and individual therapy to those living in Marin and Sonoma County. He helps clients find solutions to marital problems in their relationships. His office is in Petaluma and serves the surrounding communities including Cotati, Rohnert Park, Novato, Santa Rosa and Penngrove. He enjoys helping others have happier relationships and more fulfilling lives.


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