Why Apologies Fail and What You Can Do Instead

Sometimes things go wrong at big social and family events!

Sometimes things just go sideways in the course of time.

Words are said; deeds are done; and arguments and hurt feelings leave a nasty stain on a relationship.

Attempts to right the wrongs can fall short and flat, and lead to prolonged pain, suffering and the loss of a relationship that still had a lot of good times left in it.

Unfortunately, this is often a result of apology-makers not knowing how to create and deliver a sincere, responsible apology.

Can you think of apologies in your life where the relationship still drifted into oblivion? Wasn’t the apology supposed to fix the relationship?

It turns out that “sorry it won’t happen again” is, after all, an unreasonable expectation. It asks too much of a person.

What apologizers fail to see and why they fail in their attempt is:

The person who has been offended is asked to be responsible for forgiving and forgetting.

The relationship becomes imbalanced and confused.

A “residue” is left in the atmosphere, and no one knows quite how to address it (after all, the apology has been made!).

Why isn’t the relationship back to where it was? What could possibly still be wrong?

* * * *

Knowledge of how a sincere apology works will go a long toward making amends and helping a relationship become strong.

Both the Apologizer and the ApologyReceiver will do well to learn this straightforward skill. They can also help each other with the process as they move through it.

Here is the 4 Stage Apology Formula:

“I’m sorry for…”

This stage absolutely requires specificity from everyone involved. No apology can be rendered if there is vagueness or free-floating blame.

When the purpose of the apology is specific, the Apologizer can show that they fully understand what the other person is upset about.

For example: instead of, “I’m sorry I was rude and inappropriate”; go with “I’m sorry I criticized how you looked in that outfit while we were out with friends last weekend?”

“What I did/said was wrong because…”

Without this stage it is highly unlikely there will be a change in you or the relationship. If you are the Apologizer, take some time to think through why your behavior hurt someone’s feelings.

Even more important, this stage shows the person you hurt that you understand how they feel. Just demonstrating you understand may be enough to bring resolution!

For example: instead of, “What I said was wrong because it sabotaged what I really wanted to do”; go with “It was wrong to say that because it hurt your feelings and I knew it probably would.”

“In the future, I will…”

This stage is extremely important because it assures the Apology Receiver that you will be making changes that lead to creating better choices.

In DSM terms you are “re-designing” the relationship and beginning down the road of restoring trust. Using positive language is paramount: it continually cleans and clears the atmosphere and works wonders to restore the balance between you.

Say what you WILL do, not what you won’t do.

For example: instead of, “I won’t say/do that again”; go with “ In the future, I will keep unkind words to myself both in public and private. I’m also going to work on understanding how I show up in all my relationships.”

“What more can I do to make this right?”

This stage is about checking in to see what has developed so far and to discover if anything else needs to be included. By asking this question you are opening the space for the other person to be heard.

You are also showing an even greater responsibility for yourself and a deeper desire to heal the relationship.

In this stage your own self-management becomes a priority. Repeat stages 1-3 again if new grievances arise. Remember, generativity can take patience and diligence, or it can be quick and easy.

You will be able to feel when the relationship has entered Stage Four and is ready to grow again!

You can practice moving through these stages when you want to save a relationship.

It takes two to Tango, of course… and that is a juicy topic for an article to come!


Why Apologies Fail and What You Can Do Instead — 1 Comment

  1. Jil and Craig… this is one of the best posts I’ve read on any site in recent memory – it is direct insightful and spot on! I have actually printed this out and put it on my bulletin board and I will share it on my social media. There is something that is restorative about a proper apology and done right, it can actually work towards healing a relationship. Thank you so much for this and Happy New Year! ~ Rachel

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