What do you do when you mess up, hurt someone’s feelings, or offend your partner? Do you become defensive, disengage, or attack? As humans, we are bound to mess up and, at the same time, we can make things right. However, making things better doesn’t always come easy.

One factor in making things better is an apology. In my experience, I’ve come across 5 different types of people when it comes to apologies (this is not an exhaustive list nor has it been verified by research, these are my own descriptions):

  • The Over-Apologizer
  • The “I’m-sorry-BUT…”
  • The “I’m-sorry-IF…”
  • The Never Apologizer
  • The Sincere Apologizer

The Over-Apologizer is the one who constantly apologizes for every little thing. Perhaps this person too easily takes responsibility for things, wants to please others, or keep the peace between people. Or this person says “I’m sorry” so often, those words have lost its meaning and you know longer trust his or her word.

The “I’m-sorry-BUT” person makes the apology, however, may not really feel sincere or may not be able to see his or her responsibility in the situation. If you hear the BUT, it discounts the apology.

The “I’m-sorry-IF” person makes the apology and similar to the “I’m-sorry-BUT” puts the focus on your feelings and shifts the responsibility on you rather than his or her actions or responsibility. For instance, “I’m sorry IF you were offended by what I said.” Regardless of what the person may have done, because you feel offended, you are the one who is in the “wrong.”

The Never Apologizer will not apologize. He or she is not capable of seeing his or her part in an issue, does not believe an apology is necessary, doesn’t understand that your feelings are involved, or will distract from the situation and say other things to make things “better.” For instance, instead of an apology you may hear, “Yes, I see your point. I’ll work on [that] or I’ll change [this].”

The Sincere-Apologizer truly understands how he or she may have made a mistake, given a misperception, or miscommunicated. This person knows how to take ownership for his or her part in the matter.

How to make a sincere apology

  1. Focus on your responsibility. Everyone has an influence in a relationship. Tell the other person how you see your responsibility in the matter.
  2. Take ownership for your share of the problem. Be responsible for what you did, how you said it, or how you reacted.
  3. Recognize how the other person feels. Do they feel betrayed, belittled, abandoned, sad, humiliated, rejected?
  4. Do not say “BUT” or “IF.”
  5. Say, “I’m sorry that I did _____ and that it made you feel _____. I am conscious of my actions and I am working to do better in the future.
  6. Expect nothing in return, but apologize because that’s the right thing to do

The silent treatment, sleeping on the couch, or other ways of distancing is not good for anyone. Take steps towards finding healing in your relationships and see how far a sincere apology may take you! Consider getting help from a licensed professional if you find that your relationship needs more than an apology.