Elements of an Apology

Elements of an Apology

Oops, you made your way into the doghouse once again. Whether it was for something (you think of as) minimal, like coming home late from work, again (amidst the Coronavirus, mind you; the audacity!), or more extreme, like reaching out to your high school sweetheart, it is now time to apologize.

And please, at least send some flowers to her, at the office or the house, wherever she spends a lot of her time! Maybe buy her a piece of jewelry. Or a car? (How bad were you?!)

Side note: You’ll notice that, throughout this blog, the male apologizes to the female. That’s because I’m a girl, and we pretty much can do no wrong. So I’m sorry for that. (And don’t use that “I’m sorry” as an example of a good one.) 😉

If you’ve hung your head between your legs and shamefacedly realized that an “I’m sorry” is necessary, the following should help ensure that your apology comes across as more heartfelt . . . and has a better chance of doing its job. After all, the power of the apology plays a huge role in relationship maintenance and harmony.

Follow these tips for the perfect apology.

Take Responsibility

Acknowledge and take responsibility for your actions by clearly stating why you are apologizing. Use “I” statements. (“I’m sorry that I didn’t load the dishwasher the way you wanted it done.”) There’s nothing more irritating than when an individual fails to fess up to what he’s actually apologizing for.

Before you do anything else, you must first admit what you did wrong and that you know you are the one to blame.

No Excuses

Never ruin your apology with an excuse. Try to leave words like “but” out of your apology. “I cheated on you, BUT you weren’t intimate with me for three whole days. I don’t care that you’re nine-months pregnant. A man’s got needs.” Not a good apology! Instead, let’s leave it at “I’m sorry I cheated on you, especially while you’re working so hard at growing another human’s eyeballs and stuff.”


It’s all about the timing. Apologize sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until you get caught. Fess up to your mistakes before she finds out what a dirty dog you were. It will come across as more sincere.

She will be angry. And she may not even get over it. But you have a better chance of your relationship succeeding if you’re the one to bring her the bad news (and hope she doesn’t kill the messenger . . . oh, and perpetrator). Doing so shows remorse.

On the other hand, if you wait until you get caught or just can’t deal with the guilt a moment longer, your apology won’t seem as sincere. You’ll be doing it for your own selfish reasons, and not because you want to repair your relationship and ensure its honesty going forward.

That’s not a real apology.


For this reason, a gesture of remorse, a physical manifestation of your apology, is smart. This is not guilt, mind you, but remorse. I like to think of guilt as your conscience, nagging you and making you feel bad. But it is not true remorse.

Remorse, unlike guilt, is what you feel when you deeply and genuinely regret a choice you have made, and you know, in your heart, that you will never make that choice again. Remorse indicates that a major change has taken place within you. You intend not to repeat the act that required your apology and will take steps to ensure that it does not.

Avoid making too grand a gesture. Avoid making one that is not grand enough. Choose your gesture for its effect on her instead of to show your intent. Show remorse, but also your empathy. You feel remorse for what you’ve done, but, more importantly, you understand how it impacted her, too. Maybe don’t buy her the new car just yet. A handwritten card may have more of an impact, depending on the circumstances.


Finally, ask for, but don’t demand forgiveness. Now the ball is in her court. It’s up to her to use the new information you’ve provided. She’ll want to decide whether she can ever trust you again, whether she wants the relationship to work. If she needs some space, give it to her. If she prefers you to be around more often, do that.

You can’t force her to forgive you, but your actions following your apology will likely determine whether she can. So state clearly what you plan to do in the future to ensure that you won’t repeat the behavior that required your apology. Seek counseling? Treatment? More flowers? Flowers everyday?

Let’s face it, apologizing isn’t easy, even when you know you’ve been totally wrong. But if your relationship is worth it, you’ll follow these tips the next time you find yourself back in the doghouse while your golden retriever snuggles up with your partner in your bed.

For more helpful relationship advice, visit www.OpenPalmLaw.com.

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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