Apologies transform relationships in a way an, “I’m sorry” cannot.
Listening to “I’m sorry” we would be more authentic to say, “I regret,” or “It’s too bad that…”
For example, “I’m sorry. I am sorry you feel that way. I am sorry that your feelings got hurt. I am sorry that happened to you, and so forth.
Notice that in none of these “I’m sorry” expressions no one has accepted responsibility. At best, feelings might have been briefly acknowledged. There is perhaps an inauthentic, expression of regret. No promises for future actions that make a difference. Nothing in the relationship has changed.
On the other hand, an effective apology will transform any relationship, helping to file the hurtful past into the past where it can no longer drag on the relationship.
In a well-designed apology an individual:
- Cites the behavior that has negatively impacted the other or the relationship. (i.e. marriage, family, at home or at work) saying,
“I apologize for speaking angrily, being unkind, not listening to your feelings.”
- Distinguishes the impact of the hurtful behavior on the other.
“Leaving you upset, hurt, and felling your feelings do not matter”
- Distinguishes the impacts of the negative behavior on the relationship.
“Leaving us disconnected from one another, alienated and unloving.”
- Asks the other’s forgiveness.
“Please forgive me.”
- Promises actions to repair the negative behavior and impacts.
“I promise to be more patient, kind, and listen to you from now on.”
- Reaches out to the other for support, creating a supportive partnership, so that keeping the new promise becomes easier and more effective.
“And if it seems that I am slipping back into unkind ways, please give me a sign and I promise to stop and listen.”
- Apology accepted or tweak the apology for a do-over.
- Apology complete. A new future has been created. The hurtful past has been filed away.
Life has altered. The past is being filed into the past. A new future arises for the relationship.