Are You Really Sorry? A Better Way to Apologize

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better-apologyIt happens in every home, in every family, in every real friendship: a fight. Not just a little tift but a real, intense, harsh words spoken (or, if you’re a toddler, fists or toys thrown), kind of fight. And then things are weird. And no one wants to address the weird. And no one wants to be wrong. And no one wants to say sorry. But, eventually, one of parties will apologize. And the other party will say, “That’s ok,” even though it isn’t.

Do you realize that? It isn’t. It isn’t ok to scream and yell at someone you love. It isn’t ok to throw things. It isn’t ok to make someone feel horrible. But it happens. And for some reason, once we apologize for it, we expect for it to be “ok” now. And somehow, eventually, the hurt goes away and it does become ok. But it’s not because you said “sorry.” Those words don’t mean anything. So we built on them in our home. We have a follow-up question after saying “sorry” for something we do wrong. And it isn’t always easy to ask. We also do some explaining. That might be an even harder part for me.

Here is how we do “sorry.”


Steps to a more sincere apology
Steps to a more sincere apology

Once we’ve realized we were mean or hurtful, and we actually feel bad about it (so it doesn’t sound rehearsed or fake or forced) we find the offendee. We apologize by saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry I…” and we get very specific about what we did that made someone else hurt. We don’t ever say, “I’m sorry I made you mad.” That isn’t what you did. It sounds more like “I’m sorry you can’t control your emotions.” See why that’s not ok? Instead, “I’m sorry I broke your favorite decorative bowl,” would be a better apology.


Then we say, “This was wrong (or mean or rude) because….” and don’t try to excuse yourself here. It’s easy fall into the excuse train when apologizing. Don’t do it.


Now the hardest step for my 3 year old, “What can I do to help make it better?” And whatever the offendee says, the offender needs to actually do it! If I tell him that helping me pick up the pieces of the bowl will make it better, he helps. And then I let it be better. Can I still be sad? Yeah. But I don’t hold it against him once he completes whatever I tell him will make it better. That isn’t fair to him. I could even say a few things. “Help me fix it, give me a kiss, and then pick up 5 toys.” Whatever I deem necessary, he does to make amends, and then it’s over.

When it’s less obvious who is the offender and the offendee, such as in a marriage or friendship, where you are both angry about something, you both need to go through the steps. And I give extra credit to whoever starts (almost always my husband because he is just better). This has helped us to own our mistakes and to really realize the damage our anger can cause.

While this way to apologize isn’t easy or fun, it is much more effective and healing for the injured party…and I believe, even for the offender. We secretly crave a way to undo our cruelty and this helps fulfill some of that desire.

Do any of you have different ways to apologize or ways to help better make amends after an offense?

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