Can an Apology Help?

What are your patterns around apologizing? Are you able to swiftly apologize to someone if you’ve made a mistake? Or does it feel too vulnerable for you to admit when you’re in the wrong? Many people struggle in this area for a variety of reasons.

How do you receive apologies? If someone apologizes for hurting you, are you quick to forgive and allow them to repair the relationship? Or do you hold on to their mistakes out of indignity or even fear of the same thing occurring again? People report that, once hurt, forgiveness can feel challenging.

Research by Dr. John Gottman shows that people in the most successful relationships have the ability to easily offer and receive apologies. Sometimes this can be difficult if the wound was deep and created ripples of suffering. However, even with the most hurtful offenses, practice can help you get better with it.

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When we refuse to offer or accept an apology, this is often called stonewalling in the research. This dynamic is a strong indicator that the relationship will not be successful. Sometimes you might get stuck in stubbornness or fear, especially if you’re not adept at apologies. Here are some strategies that can help you navigate apologies better:

— Write out the apology before you speak it, so you are sure to use the words that are most meaningful.

— Practice saying the apology alone before you have the actual conversation.

— Be mindful about which approach is best – in person, by phone, email, text or card. Some people even include gifts with their apologies.

— Ensure that your actions align with the words. You will lose others’ trust if they don’t line up and you keep making the same mistake.

— When someone approaches you with an apology, offer grace and the benefit of the doubt when possible. It takes humility for them to approach you. Remember that everyone is flawed and would not want to be summarized only by their mistakes.

— Consider how it would feel to get to the other side of the conflict and resolve any festering thoughts and emotions. That liberation feels far better than being right.