How to Apologize and Make Amends When You Were Wrong
Saying, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry I hurt you,” can be surprisingly difficult! These tips will help you apologize and make amends after hurting someone you care about. The relief and freedom you’ll feel after saying you’re sorry is worth the painful moment of the apology.
You’ll need to be vulnerable and authentic if you truly want to make amends and apologize. And, you need to think about how you’ll say “I’m sorry” in ways that are meaningful to the person you hurt – especially if you believe your relationship is worth fighting for. However, there is no precise formula that will tell you exactly how to apologize and make amends when you hurt someone – or if you want to get back together with someone you love. But there are several wise ways to approach that person. The best way is to be honest about what happened and how you feel. And, make sure you give your loved one or your ex time and space to process your apology. Here are a few tips for apologizing and making amends…
I’m inspired to write this article because of something that happened to me today: my sister, who cut me out of her life more than 10 years ago, emailed me. She’s the reason I wrote How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
“I tried to call, but it was really difficult for me,” she said in her text message. “Maybe meeting in person would be easier.”
Whoa – it had never occurred to me that reuniting would be hard for her! I was the one who felt terrible all these years (though I had done nothing to deserve being cut out of her life). But, if I put myself in her shoes, I do understand that apologizing and making amends after all these years might be difficult.
How to Apologize and Make Amends
Because of my experience with my sister, I’m sharing these tips from the perspective of the hurt person. Whether it’s your ex boyfriend, ex wife, or a long lost family member, these tips will help you move forward in peace.
1. Get real, vulnerable, authentic
The most important thing is to be honest and real. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. If it’s hard for you to apologize, then say “I don’t know how to apologize to you, this is really difficult for me.” If you want to make amends, say “You are important to me, and I’m sorry I hurt you. How can I make amends, what can I do to make this up to you?”
“Get real,” write the Wrights in The Heart of the Fight. “If you need something, ask for it. If you have a thought you would normally edit, say it. A feeling unexpressed? Share it. Speak up!”
While these relationship experts weren’t referring specifically to apologizing and making amends after a fight – or even resolving conflicts in relationships – they were describing healthy communication skills. And that’s what you need to learn: how to be honest and open about how you feel. If you truly want to make amends, you have to share your feelings.
2. Take time to figure out how you feel
What led up to the conflict or breakup with your ex? How do you feel about what you’re apologizing for? Why did you do what you did?
Before you can be honest about your emotions, you have to know what they are. A true, sincere apology requires some explanation of the action. Making amends involves sharing what you were thinking and feeling when you caused the pain. For example, I’ve been carrying around a lot of confusion, self-doubt, and insecurity because my sister decided to just cut me out of her life. It was bewildering and painful – and it would help me to understand why she did it.
When you apologize and make amends to the person you hurt – whether it’s your ex or someone you don’t know well – try to be honest about why you acted the way you did. In most situations, this will help the person you’re apologizing to. But use your discretion! If your reasons and feelings would actually hurt to the person, then keep your lips zipped. Your intention is to learn how to apologize and make amends, not re-traumatize the person.
3. Consider your reasons for making amends
What’s your motivation? What do you miss about the relationship, the person you hurt? Why are you searching for ways to apologize and make amends? Be honest with yourself – but not necessarily with the person you hurt. For instance, my sister said she ended up in the emergency room at the hospital, and she didn’t have an emergency contact name or number to give the nurse. She has no close friends, she’s estranged from her ex-husband and daughters, and she withdrew from her family members. So, she contacted me through Facebook.
If your motivation for making amends is for selfish reasons, don’t share your motivation with the person you’re apologizing to. Of course, we could argue that all attempts to apologize and make amends is selfish (to make yourself feel better, to clear your conscience so you can sleep at night, to feel loved again, to heal, to move to the next step in a recovery program, to ensure the nurses have someone to call if you can’t leave the hospital on your own, etc).
“I’m sorry I hurt you.”
So simple, yet so difficult! I get it. Learning how to apologize involves swallowing your pride and being vulnerable. I don’t know why it’s so painful – we must be wired to resist apologizing for our mistakes. It must show vulnerability, weakness, that sort of thing.
Apologizing for your actions and attitudes is simple and powerful. A sincere apology without excuses or defensive statements is an excellent step towards making amends. Don’t make excuses for your behavior, but do share the thoughts and decisions that led up to your actions.
Read How to Convince Someone to Give You a Second Chance if you think your apology won’t be accepted right away.
5. Show sincere understanding of how your actions hurt the person
What are you apologizing for? Why do you feel the need to make amends – from the hurt person’s perspective? She isn’t interested in your reasons for making amends. She cares about whether or not you understand how your actions affected her.
This is empathy. It’s putting yourself in the hurt person’s shoes. Stop saying, “I don’t know how to apologize, it’s so difficult for me, I can’t do it, how do I make amends? This is so emotional and scary for me!” (look at all that I, I, I, me, me, me me!). Instead, sincerely try to understand how your actions affected the other person’s life, psyche, self-image, and other relationships.
6. Allow the person you hurt time and space to respond honestly
Ok. You did it. You apologized. Good for you!
You thought that was hard? Now it gets REALLY difficult. You have to allow the person to respond the exact same way I encouraged you to in the beginning of this article. I’ll repeat it here, so you don’t have to scroll back up…
“Genuine interaction means you’re spontaneous, unedited, and real, rather than choosing your words,” write the Wrights. “It also means you’re more likely to start a fight. But that’s the point – being yourself with each other and bringing conflict to the surface so you can deal with it. Real intimacy requires vulnerability and deep truth.”
No matter how difficult it is, allow the person you hurt to share her thoughts and feelings. Don’t try to convince her that she’s wrong, or mistaken, or overreacting. Listen carefully – without interrupting – until she has expressed herself. Maybe she’ll cry. Yell. Scream. Throw stuff. Let her respond the way she needs to. This is an important part of learning how to apologize and make amends.
7. Give her time to heal
No matter how long it’s been since you hurt her – no matter if it was an accidental betrayal, a careless phrase, or a selfish action – it may take time for her to heal. A physical or emotional betrayal is a wound, and wounds need time to heal. Sometimes it takes weeks for wounds to heal; other times, they never do. Some people bounce back quickly; other people hold on to pain and grudges.
I forgave my sister long ago for cutting me out of her life. I haven’t told her I’ve forgiven her because she hasn’t apologized or even talked about making amends. She just wants to forget about the past and move on. To me, this means our relationship will never be the same. I can’t have a true, deep, sincere, loving relationship with someone who is so cavalier about people’s feelings. All the same, I’m happy to be her emergency contact. I will help her in any way I can, if I can.
If you hurt someone, remember that how you apologize will change your future relationship with her. If you really want to make amends with someone, ask her what she needs from you. If you really want to have a relationship with her, do what you can to meet her needs.
“Genuine interaction means you’re spontaneous, unedited, and real, rather than choosing your words,” write Judith Wright and Bob Wright in The Heart of the Fight: A Couple’s Guide to Fifteen Common Fights, What They Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Closer (one of my favorite books about relationships). “It also means you’re more likely to start a fight. But that’s the point – being yourself with each other and bringing conflict to the surface so you can deal with it. Real intimacy requires vulnerability and deep truth.”
You may find How to Say Sorry to Someone You Love helpful, especially if you don’t feel ready to apologize and make amends.
What are your thoughts on my tips for how to forgive and make amends after you hurt someone? I welcome your response below. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it helpful to share your experience. Sometimes it helps to write your feelings down, especially if you haven’t shared them with anyone else yet.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” ~Kurt Vonnegut.
Be brave. Go in peace.
I can't offer advice, but you can:
Or maybe you regret the breakup? Text Your Ex Back