At some point in every long-term relationship, there comes a time when one partner has to apologize to the other. Probably this is something that happens multiple times a year, month, or even week. Sometimes we may not really believe we’ve done something wrong, but if our words or actions have in any way hurt the person we love, then we need to say that we’re sorry.

However, there are right ways and wrong ways to apologize. First, here’s what not to do.

Bad Apologies

“I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.” When you say something like this, you’re essentially telling your partner that it was their fault they became upset and that you’re not going to shoulder any of the blame. You’re telling them that they’re too sensitive, and this is only going to increase their resentment.

Coming up with excuses. If you say “I’m sorry that my yelling hurt you” that’s a good start, but if you follow this up with something like “…but you know I’ve been really stressed out at work,” that’s a cop out. Don’t just make excuses for bad behavior; accept responsibility.

Apologizing just to end an argument. If you apologize just because you don’t want to be having an argument anymore, your partner will probably be able to sense your motive from your tone and body language and will know that the apology isn’t genuine.

Gifts instead of words. Many people interpret the giving of a gift (such as flowers, jewelry, a back rub) as insincere if it’s given without a heartfelt, specific apology. Don’t just rely on material things in the absence of words; express your sincere feelings by talking to your partner.

Good Apologies

Empathize. In order to truly mean your apology, you have to understand how your words or actions made your partner feel and be able to feel these emotions yourself.

Let your partner talk. You don’t need to ramble on and on. Instead, state your apology in simple terms and ask your partner if there’s anything they want to get out. Be a good listener and be open to criticism; you may find out that you upset your partner for a different reason than you thought, and getting to the source of the problem can help you better resolve it.

Remind your partner that you love them. Your partner needs to know that you still value and appreciate them, and if you behaved badly towards them, that doesn’t represent how you really feel.

Change problem behavior. If there’s a particular problem that’s been causing grief in your relationship, you can’t just give an empty apology and continue the behavior. Talk with your partner to come up with a resolution or compromise that will make both of you happy.

Apologizing isn’t easy for everyone – and sometimes neither is accepting apologies! If this is something that you struggle with, set up an appointment with my Houston relationship counseling office.